3M to pay $6bn to settle combat earplugs case

In an attempt to wrap up one of the largest mass damages cases in US legal history, the conglomerate 3M has agreed a $6bn settlement with over 250,000 military veterans who claimed earplugs provided to them for combat failed to protect them from hearing loss and tinnitus.

Published on 06 September 2023

3M to pay $6bn to settle combat earplugs case

Without admitting liability, 3M is nevertheless still claiming that the earplugs – made by a 3M subsidiary called Aearo Technologies and issued to soldiers on duty in the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts – were safe and effective when properly employed. The conglomerate’s huge payout agreement comes after an earlier attempt to use an elaborate bankruptcy strategy to avoid paying out one-by-one on hundreds of thousands of potentially successful damage claims.

Plaintiffs had already won ten separate trials against 3M, although the overseeing judge had dismissed some 50,000 of up to 300,000 damage claims.



The bankruptcy strategy was scotched in August 2022 by a US federal judge’s ruling, prompting 3M towards its current agreement.

In December 2022, another judge, denying 3M the ability to try to blame Aero and have the claims handled in bankruptcy court, sanctioned the company for their “brazen abuse of the litigation process.”

The $6bn settlement 3M has now agreed is lower than the up-to $10bn many analysts had forecast.

As it stands, a judge still needs to approve the settlement, though it is understood that the agreement would not bind future claimants who sued 3M. On another front, the beleaguered group also faces thousands of lawsuits for its products having allegedly exposed people to perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances – (PFAS) so-called “forever chemicals”. Litigation in relation to these PFAS allegations has seen the conglomerate reach a $10bn settlement with US cities and towns.


What is the alleged problem with the earplugs?


The combat earplugs legal wrangle has been running since 2016. The allegedly defective CAEv2 earplugs were produced in collaboration between U.S. military representatives and Aearo in the late 1990s before 3M acquired the company.

They were designed to rid the need for soldiers to carry two different sets of earplugs. Dual-ended, if worn one way they are supposed to block sound like traditional earplugs, and in reverse to block only certain battlefield sounds while allowing the wearer to hear softer, nearer sounds.

But the alleged problem with the CAEv2 earplugs is that they were too short in the ear canal, failing to effectively seal and protect the inner ear.

Source: Financial Times/Forbes Advisor