In a groundbreaking development, 3M has agreed to pay over $6 billion to consumers and military personnel who claimed that the company’s earplugs were faulty, leading to hearing loss, tinnitus and other hearing-related injuries. The class-action lawsuit, representing a significant victory for veterans, was hailed as a historic agreement by the plaintiffs’ legal representatives.
The plaintiffs were expertly handled by Clayton Clark of Clark, Love & Hutson, PLLC, Bryan F. Aylstock of Aylstock, Witkin, Kreis & Overholtz, PLLC and Christopher A. Seeger of Seeger Weiss LLP.
The settlement, which spans from 2023 to 2029, will see 3M disburse $5 billion in cash and $1 billion in 3M common stock. However, 3M was careful to clarify that this agreement does not constitute an admission of liability, maintaining that their earplugs are safe and effective when used correctly.
The Defective 3M Ear Plugs and Alleged Injuries-
At the heart of the complaint were the Dual-Ended Combat Arms Earplugs, CAEv.2, produced by Aearo LLC between 2003 and 2015, a company later acquired by 3M in 2007. Plaintiffs contended that these earplugs were prone to becoming loose, leaving users exposed to harmful levels of noise. Individuals in various settings, from civilian industrial professions to hunting or shooting at ranges, relied on these earplugs for protection. Military personnel, in particular, used them during firearms training, vehicle maintenance and in noisy, hazardous conditions both domestically and abroad.
The consequences were dire, with many experiencing hearing loss, tinnitus and other hearing-related injuries as a result of using these earplugs. The complaint alleged that the earplugs failed to meet safety standards and claimed that 3M had manipulated the Noise Reduction Rating (NRR) label through inappropriate testing procedures.
The NRR label is crucial in indicating the effectiveness of hearing protection, with higher numbers representing better protection. However, according to the plaintiffs, ear plug company used its own testing laboratory and skewed the NRR results, claiming a rating of 22 when the actual rating from eight subjects was only 10.9.
Legal Troubles for 3M
This lawsuit is not the first time 3M has faced legal issues related to these earplugs. In July 2018, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced that company had agreed to pay $9.1 million to settle allegations that it knowingly sold these same earplugs to the U.S. military without disclosing the defects. The whistleblower report that triggered this investigation exposed ear plug’s company failure to provide crucial information about the earplugs’ shortcomings to the military.
Chad A. Readler, acting assistant attorney of the DOJ’s civil division, emphasized that government contractors profiting at the expense of the military would face appropriate consequences. This earlier settlement foreshadowed the larger class-action lawsuit that has now resulted in the $6 billion payout.
3M’s $6 billion settlement with consumers and military members who suffered hearing-related injuries due to defective earplugs marks a significant moment in legal history. The agreement, brokered by skilled legal representatives, will see 3M paying out the sum between 2023 and 2029, comprising $5 billion in cash and $1 billion in 3M common stock. Despite the settlement, 3M maintains that their earplugs are safe when used correctly and that this agreement does not imply any admission of liability.
The faulty earplugs, manufactured by 3M subsidiary Aearo LLC, were at the center of a class-action lawsuit, with plaintiffs alleging that they suffered hearing damage due to the earplugs’ defects. The complaint argued that ear plug company had manipulated Noise Reduction Rating (NRR) labels and used improper testing procedures, leading to inaccurate safety ratings. This settlement comes after company previous $9.1 million payment to the Department of Justice in 2018, highlighting the company’s legal troubles over these earplugs.