3M, the company behind Scotch tape and Post-it notes, has reached a tentative agreement to pay over $5.5 billion (€5 billion) to settle more than 300,000 lawsuits accusing it of selling defective combat earplugs to the US military. This settlement would prevent a potentially larger liability that 3M had hoped to avoid through a controversial bankruptcy case that ultimately fell apart. Financial analysts had predicted that 3M could end up paying around $10 billion in total over allegations that the earplugs did not adequately protect the hearing of service members. However, the agreed sum is approximately half of that estimate.
Bloomberg Intelligence had previously estimated 3M’s potential liability to be as high as $9.5 billion, while Barclays analysts put it at around $8 billion. University of Richmond law professor Carl Tobias commented on the settlement, stating, “Sounds like 3M negotiated a pretty good deal for itself, given this litigation has been weighing on them for the better part of a decade.” A representative from 3M declined to comment on the rumors or speculation surrounding the settlement.
If finalized, this agreement would bring an end to the torrent of litigation that 3M has been facing. However, the company still faces thousands of other lawsuits related to “forever chemicals,” which are expected to cost several times more than the earplug settlement to resolve. So far, 3M has lost 10 out of 16 early trials over the earplugs, resulting in over $250 million being awarded to more than a dozen military members. In the most recent trial, a Florida jury ordered the manufacturer to pay US army veteran James Beal $77.5 million in damages for his hearing loss caused by the earplugs. Beal, who tested weapons between 2005 and 2009, developed hearing loss and tinnitus as a result.
The hundreds of thousands of lawsuits have been consolidated into a multi-district litigation before a federal judge in Florida. This process involves pretrial information exchanges and test trials, as stated in federal court records. In these lawsuits, current and former service members allege that 3M knew its earplugs were too short to be effective and that the company failed to warn the US government or users about this issue. Under the terms of the settlement, 3M would pay out the agreed amount over a period of five years.