Hundreds of thousands of earplug lawsuits have been filed against global manufacturing giant 3M over their Combat Arms earplugs, alleging that a design flaw caused hearing damage or loss in countless active duty troops and veterans in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In 2019, the cases were consolidated into multidistrict litigation (MDL) under one Florida judge to streamline the settlement process. They now represent the largest federal mass tort litigation in U.S. history.
The first case against 3M was filed in 2016 by a whistleblower, who accused the company of knowingly manufacturing earplugs with a defect that prevented a proper fit inside service members’ ears.
The Combat Arms Earplugs Version 2 were sold to every military branch, and they were hailed for their dual-ended design that allowed military personnel to choose between sound reduction or blockage. They promised protection against explosions, gunfire, loud vehicles, and other loud sounds experienced in the field. Instead, they were too short to completely seal the ear canal, exposing veterans to permanent hearing loss or tinnitus.
Tinnitus, a ringing or buzzing sound in the head with no external source, is the most common disability among American veterans.
3M was also accused of falsifying safety test results and failing to provide adequate instructions for use.
In 2018, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) found that 3M violated the False Claims Act by knowingly defrauding the government. In response, the company agreed to pay $9.1 million but admitted no liability.
News of this victory spread fast, prompting veterans to file lawsuits against 3M for their hearing damage. Since 2019, 3M has lost 10 out of the 16 cases that have gone to trial. In one case, two veterans received $110 million.
In July 2022, 3M moved the claims under the umbrella of its Texas-based subsidiary, Aearo Technologies, in an attempt to utilize a controversial legal loophole called the “Texas Two-Step.” Texas is one of just four states that allows a company to divide into two, loading one entity with its assets and another with any financial or legal liabilities.
Aereo then filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, which would temporarily halt the 3M earplug lawsuits. However, a U.S. bankruptcy judge denied the request, saying that because 3M did not file for bankruptcy, neither it nor its subsidiary was entitled to protection.
A second attempt at this was quickly shut down in January 2023 by U.S. District Judge M. Casey Rodgers, who is also overseeing the MDL in the U.S. District Court in Pensacola, FL. 3M, she said, committed a “brazen abuse of the litigation process” by trying to pass off the lawsuits to Aearo.
In a historic triumph for veterans, 3M announced in August 2023 that they would settle all active and future claims for $6 billion.
“This settlement is a tremendous outcome for veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan who put their lives on the line for our freedom,” said Duane Sarmiento, national commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW). “For those who came home with hearing damage due to 3M’s faulty earplugs, this is not only compensation, it’s a statement that their sacrifices won’t be ignored.”
The settlement will be paid to about 240,000 eligible veterans between 2023-2029. $5 billion will be in cash. The remaining $1 billion, if approved by Judge Rodgers after a fairness hearing on December 11, will come in the form of 3M company stock.
Plaintiffs have until approximately the end of February 2024 to decide between accepting their share or relinquishing it to demand a trial.
Plaintiffs with minor hearing issues who want a speedy process and are willing to accept smaller payouts could receive more than $20,000. Those with severely damaged hearing could receive significantly more but would likely go through a years-long process.
3M has the right to walk away from the deal if less than 98 percent of eligible claimants take the payouts.
The company maintains its innocence and says it is prepared to defend itself “if certain terms of the settlement agreement are not fulfilled.”
3M Lawsuit Settlement Scams
Since the settlement was announced, identity thieves have been calling eligible veterans en-masse, claiming to be from the settlement administrator, Archer Systems LLC. The callers request birthdays and social security numbers, ostensibly to confirm participation in the settlement.
Judge Rodgers wrote in an October 14 warning to claimants that Archer would never ask for full social security numbers. Anyone receiving a scam call should contact Archer or the lead plaintiff’s attorney, Bryan Alystock, directly.
If you are a veteran or active-duty service member who contracted hearing loss or damage after wearing 3M Combat Arms Earplugs Version 2, you should contact a product liability lawyer handling 3M cases to see if you are eligible to file a lawsuit. They can help you work towards getting the compensation you deserve for sustaining a life-changing loss in service to your country.