3M has agreed to pay more than $6 billion to consumers and military members who alleged the company’s ear plugs were defective and caused hearing loss, tinnitus and other hearing-related injuries.
Lawyers representing the plaintiffs in the class-action lawsuit called it an “historic agreement” and a victory for veterans. “We are proud to have obtained this settlement, which ensures that those who suffered hearing damage will receive the justice and compensation they so rightly deserve,” lawyers said in a prepared statement on behalf of the plaintiffs.
The plaintiffs were represented by Bryan F. Aylstock of Aylstock, Witkin, Kreis & Overholtz, PLLC, Christopher A. Seeger of Seeger Weiss LLP, and Clayton Clark of Clark, Love & Hutson, PLLC.
3M will contribute the money between 2023 and 2029, with $5 billion in cash and $1 billion in 3M common stock, according to an announcement on its website.
The company added that the “agreement is not an admission of liability” and that the ear plugs “are safe and effective when used properly.”
The ear plugs, injuries, and false testing
In the complaint, the plaintiffs alleged that the Dual-Ended Combat Arms Earplugs, CAEv.2, manufactured between 2003 and 2015 by Aearo LLC, would become loose, exposing plaintiffs to loud and harmful sounds. Aearo LLC was acquired by 3M in 2007.
Some people who used the ear plugs worked civilian industrial professions or used them while hunting or firing weapons at the shooting range. Others used them while in military service for firearms training, vehicle maintenance and use, working in noise-hazardous conditions, domestically or abroad.
Multiple people suffered hearing loss, tinnitus, and other hearing-related injuries.
Hearing devices must undergo testing and abide by guidelines put forth by the American National Standards Institute, which requires a Noise Reduction Rating label that states the effectiveness of the device. According to the complaint, higher numbers are associated with better hearing protection, but the defendants allegedly used their own laboratory for testing and used “inappropriate testing procedures that substantially skew the results of the NRR labeling tests.”
The ear plug NRR was allegedly manipulated to 22 when testing showed that rating on eight subject was 10.9.
Aearo, 3M’s subsidiary, attempted to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy but it was dismissed by a judge in June, who determined the company was “financially healthy.“
3M settled with DOJ in 2018
This was not the first time 3M faced trouble after a whistleblower report.
In July 2018, the Department of Justice announced that 3M Company agreed to pay $9.1 million “to resolve allegations that it knowingly sold” the same ear plugs at the center of the current settlement, to the U.S. military without disclosing the defects.
“Government contractors who seek to profit at the expense of our military will face appropriate consequences,” said Chad A. Readler, acting assistant attorney of the department’s civil division.
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