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3M earplugs caused hearing loss. Company will settle lawsuit for $6 billion

3M has reached an agreement to provide over $6 billion in compensation to consumers and military personnel who claimed that the company’s ear plugs were defective and led to hearing-related injuries, including hearing loss and tinnitus.

Attorneys representing the plaintiffs in the class-action lawsuit have hailed this settlement as a significant achievement and a win for veterans. In a prepared statement on behalf of the plaintiffs, the lawyers stated, “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.”

The plaintiffs were represented by Bryan F. Aylstock from Aylstock, Witkin, Kreis & Overholtz, PLLC, Christopher A. Seeger from Seeger Weiss LLP, and Clayton Clark from Clark, Love & Hutson, PLLC.

3M’s payment will be distributed between 2023 and 2029, comprising $5 billion in cash and $1 billion in 3M common stock, as announced on the company’s official website.

3M emphasized that this agreement does not constitute an acknowledgment of liability, and the company maintains that the ear plugs “are safe and effective when used properly.” The ear plugs, which were at the center of the litigation, were the Dual-Ended Combat Arms Earplugs, CAEv.2, manufactured by Aearo LLC between 2003 and 2015. Aearo LLC was acquired by 3M in 2007.

According to the plaintiffs’ claims, these ear plugs had a tendency to become loose, exposing users to damagingly loud sounds. The individuals who used these ear plugs had various backgrounds, including civilian industrial professions, hunting, shooting range activities, and military service involving firearms training, vehicle maintenance, and work in noisy conditions. Many of them suffered from hearing loss, tinnitus, and other hearing-related injuries.

Hearing devices must adhere to testing standards set by the American National Standards Institute, including the requirement for a Noise Reduction Rating (NRR) label that indicates the device’s effectiveness. The complaint alleged that the defendants, including 3M, used their own laboratory for testing and employed improper testing procedures that skewed the NRR results. The NRR rating, which indicates hearing protection effectiveness, was purportedly manipulated to 22, despite testing indicating a rating of 10.9 for eight subjects.

3M’s subsidiary, Aearo, attempted to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, but the filing was dismissed by a judge in June after determining that the company was financially stable.

This isn’t the first time 3M faced legal issues regarding its ear plugs. In 2018, the Department of Justice announced a settlement with 3M, requiring the company to pay $9.1 million to resolve allegations that it knowingly sold the same defective ear plugs to the U.S. military without disclosing the defects.

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