3M begins payments to service members in $6B earplug settlement

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3M has started paying out its $6 billion settlement to U.S. service members who say they experienced hearing loss or other serious injuries after using faulty earplugs made by the company at its Indianapolis subsidiary.

The chemical and consumer product manufacturer made a $250 million payment to the qualified settlement fund on Dec. 26, expected to result in 25,000 to 30,000 claimants dismissing associated litigation. And on Monday, 3M said it was accelerating another payment of $253 million to settle “wave” cases by Jan. 31.

“All the remaining ‘wave’ plaintiffs, whose claims were being prepared for trial prior to the settlement agreement, have now agreed to participate in the settlement and release their claims,” 3M wrote Monday, noting that company amended existing settlement timing as a result of this “strong support.”

Saint Paul, Minnesota-based 3M reached the $6 billion settlement agreement in August—after over a quarter million veterans and current service members sued the company and Indianapolis-based Aearo Technologies, which 3M acquired in 2008, over their Combat Arms Earplugs.

Aearo filed for bankruptcy in 2022 because of the lawsuits.

Throughout years-long litigation, service members alleged that a defective design allowed the products to loosen slightly and possibly cause hearing damage, according to Aylstock, Witkin, Kreis, & Overholtz PLLC, one of the law firms representing plaintiffs.

At the time of announcing August’s agreement, 3M maintained that the settlement—which consists of $5 billion in cash and $1 billion in stock—was not an admission of liability.

Payments were set to run from 2023 through 2029. It’s unclear out each claimant will be notified and receive settlement checks. The Associated Press reached out to attorneys representing the plaintiffs for further information Thursday.

In a Tuesday statement to the Star Tribune, plaintiff attorney Bryan Aylstock said the legal team was “pleased with 3M’s decision to move up this payment and appreciate its commitment to the resolution of these claims.”

Aylstock added that support for the settlement has been “overwhelming” so far and they “expect to meet and indeed exceed the 98% participation threshold provided for in the settlement agreement in the coming weeks.”

Prior to this settlement, 3M agreed to pay $9.1 million in 2018 to settle a lawsuit on behalf of the government alleging the company knowingly supplied defective earplugs to the U.S. military. There was no determination of liability in the agreement.

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