3M to pay $6 billion to settle hearing-loss lawsuits filed over military earplugs

Manufacturing giant 3M will pay $6 billion to resolve hundreds of thousands of claims brought by veterans who said earplugs made by the company failed to protect them from hearing loss during their service, according to a company announcement.

The payout resolves one of the largest mass torts in U.S. history. Plaintiffs said earplugs made by the company were faulty and caused them to develop hearing loss or tinnitus, which is a continuous ringing or buzzing sound in the ears.

The company arrived at the settlement without an admission of liability, according to its Tuesday announcement. The company said its earplugs “are safe and effective when used properly” and that it is prepared to continue to defend itself through litigation “if certain terms of the settlement agreement are not fulfilled.”

The case emerged from a 2016 whistleblower lawsuit filed on behalf of the U.S. government, which claimed that the manufacturer knew its earplugs, called the CAEv2, did not work as safely as it claimed. The U.S. military purchased the earplugs from 2003 until 2015, and in 2008, 3M acquired the company that made the earplugs.

Last year, the acquired company, Aearo, filed for bankruptcy as a separate company, accepting responsibility for claims. But a judge tossed the Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing, according to media reports.

The case resolves another legal headache for 3M, a sprawling conglomerate that makes hundreds of products spanning dozens of industries.

Its coatings and sealants figure in numerous industrial supply chains, while its medical and orthodontic divisions make commonly used stethoscopes, as well as the preformed crowns that dentists use in root canals. Its N95 and KN95 masks became ubiquitous during the coronavirus pandemic.


In June 3M agreed to pay $10.4 billion over 13 years to fund public water suppliers that have detected perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, known as PFAS and called forever chemicals because they don’t break down in the environment. Plaintiffs numbering in the thousands alleged that chemicals in the company’s consumer products could cause cancer, lower fertility, birth defects and other health problems. The company did not admit liability in that settlement.

3M stock jumped 5.2 percent Monday after news of a potential settlement surfaced in the Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg News. Some analysts had expected the litigation to cost the company between $10 billion and $15 billion, according to the Journal.

The settlement is to be paid out over a six-year period starting in 2023. It includes $5 billion in cash and $1 billion in stock.