From 2003 to 2015, the U.S. military issued Dual-Ended Combat Arms earplugs to service members in training and combat to protect their hearing from loud noises, like helicopters, gunfire, and explosions. The earplugs were made by Aearo Technologies, which was acquired by 3M in 2008.
Hundreds of thousands of service members have sued 3M, claiming that the earplugs were defectively designed and that 3M failed to warn users about known safety concerns, leaving service members with permanent injuries like hearing loss and tinnitus (ringing in the ears).
On August 29, 2023, 3M agreed to pay $6 billion to settle the lawsuits. Here's an overview of what you need to know about the 3M earplug lawsuits.
In 2016, a whistleblower lawsuit exposed a potential design flaw in the fit of the 3M earplugs. The earplugs were never recalled, but 3M stopped making them in 2015. 3M settled in the whistleblower lawsuit in 2018 for $9.1 million.
After the whistleblower settlement, individual service members began filing lawsuits against 3M alleging that the defective earplugs caused them to develop hearing-related injuries. Most of the 3M lawsuits (roughly 250,000) were transferred to federal court in Florida in the largest mass tort "multi-district litigation" (MDL) in history. Judge M. Casey Rogers oversees the case, officially titled 3M Products Liability Litigation, MDL No. 2885.
The first 3M earplug MDL trial (called a "bellwether trial") happened in early 2021. Over the next year or so, there were a total of 16 bellwether trials. 3M won 6 trials and lost 10, with juries awarding nearly $300 million in damages to service members.
Seeing the writing on the wall, 3M attempted to shield itself by having Aearo, now a subsidiary of 3M, take on liability for the earplug lawsuits and file for bankruptcy in June 2022. But the bankruptcy filing was dismissed as "fatally premature" in June 2023, given that Aero and 3M are both financially health.
In late August 2023, 3M agreed to pay $6 billion to settle nearly 250,000 earplug lawsuits. The company announced it'll pay $5 billion in cash and $1 billion in 3M common stock between 2023 and 2029. The agreement includes all MDL claims in Florida and a coordinated state court action in Minnesota.
3M says that the settlement is not an admission of liability and will continue to defend itself in litigation if necessary.
Service members who have been diagnosed with any type of hearing problem after using 3M Dual-Ended Combat Arms Earplugs between the years 2003 and 2015, should talk to a lawyer about a potential product liability lawsuit against 3M.
According to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), hearing problems—including tinnitus (ringing or other types of noise in the ears)—are "by far the most prevalent service-connected disability among American Veterans."
3M earplug-related hearing problems may include:
A specific medical diagnosis of some kind of earplug-related injury is the first step in understanding (and proving) the extent of your losses ("damages").
You have a limited window of time to get your case filed (more on that below). Don't delay in talking to a lawyer about your case. If you miss the filing deadline, your lawsuit will likely be dismissed and you won't get compensation for your injury.
The amount of compensation a 3M earplugs plaintiff might get in a settlement or court award can be hard to predict and varies from case to case. Common categories of damages in 3M earplugs lawsuits include:
Some plaintiffs in the 3M bellwether trials have also been awarded punitive damages. Damage awards are typically meant to compensate victims for their losses. But punitive damages are meant to punish defendants for outrageous behavior and can lead to big payouts for plaintiffs.
Some 3M bellwether plaintiffs have won huge verdicts. In May 2022, a Florida jury awarded a U.S. Army veteran $77.5 million, the largest award for an individual plaintiff. But other 3M plaintiffs have lost their trials and received no money.
3M has now agreed to pay $6 billion to resolve the earplug lawsuits, but it's unclear how the money will be divided among the 250,000 plaintiffs.
On September 8, 2023, Judge M. Casey Rogers took the unusual step of recording Case Management Conference No. 23, discussing the structure and logistics of the 3M Settlement Program. If you're involved in the 3M MDL it's critical that you and your attorney watch the Zoom Recording to figure out the value of your claim and decide whether to participate in the settlement.
The 3M settlements won't happen overnight. 3M announced that it will contribute a total of $6 billion to a settlement fund between 2023 and 2029, consisting of $5 billion in cash and $1 billion in 3M stock.
If you served in the military between 2003 and 2015 and have a hearing-related injury, you may be able to file a 3M earplug lawsuit, but time is running out quickly.
Each state and the federal government has its own time limits for filing lawsuits, called the "statute of limitations." Different deadlines apply to different kinds of cases. In most states, the statute of limitations deadline for 3M earplug lawsuits is between one and six years. The more complicated question is when the statute of limitations "clock" starts to run in 3M cases.
In many kinds of injury cases, including those stemming from hearing-related injuries linked to 3M earplugs, the statute of limitations "clock" might not start running on the date of the service member's last use of the product. Instead, under the "discovery rule," the clock might start only when service members discover (or should reasonably have discovered) that their injury was caused by defects in the 3M earplugs. Many service members argue that the earliest that they could have learned about the defects in the 3M earplugs was when the 3M whistleblower lawsuit settlement was announced in July 2018.
Or the relevant discovery rule could simply provide that the clock starts on the date the service member was diagnosed with or started experiencing symptoms of a hearing problem caused by the product. For example, let's say you last used 3M Dual-Ended Combat Arms earplugs during training on September 1, 2015, but you didn't experience hearing loss until November 15, 2019. Under the discovery rule, the statute of limitations "clock" might not start until November 15, 2019.
If you have questions about how the statute of limitations applies to your case, talk to a lawyer. If you miss the deadline, your case will almost certainly be dismissed.
Learn more about how the statute of limitations works.
3M earplug lawsuits are complicated. A lawyer can explain the entire legal process to you (including how MDL works) and answer your questions.
The best way to find a personal injury lawyer is to ask trusted people, like friends and coworkers, for a referral. You might want to reach out to fellow service members to find out if they're experiencing hearing problems too, and, if so, whether they've talked to a lawyer.
Nearly all state and local bar associations have certified lawyer referral directories and many offer legal resources for veterans and service members. The American Bar Association also provides a directory of legal assistance resources for active-duty service members and veterans.
As with the majority of injury-related cases, when an attorney takes on a 3M earplugs claim, the lawyer will typically handle the case under a "contingency fee" agreement. That means the attorney only earns a fee if the service member gets money in a settlement or after trial.
Let's take a closer look at how these agreements work, and the importance of understanding the fine print of your attorney-client agreement when it comes to issues like "costs."
Under a contingency fee agreement, your attorney takes a percentage of any settlement or court award you receive. If don't win your 3M lawsuit or reach a settlement, you typically don't owe the attorney a fee. Win or lose you may have to repay your lawyer for costs, like filing fees.
A typical contingency fee is 33%. Some attorneys will handle a 3M earplugs case on a "sliding scale," which works much the same way as a standard contingency fee arrangement, except the lawyer's fee percentage goes up as the case progresses. For example, if the case settles before the lawyer has to file a lawsuit, the fee percentage might be 25%. If the plaintiff wins after the case goes all the way through trial, the attorney's fee might be 40%.
Costs are expenses that the attorney or law firm pays in order to move the case along toward settlement or judgment. Costs typically include:
Most plaintiffs' attorneys try to keep costs down, but they can easily add up to tens of thousands of dollars. Your fee agreement should spell out exactly if and when you'll have to pay for costs in your case.
3M lawsuits, like most mass torts, are complicated. You'll need someone who understands your medical diagnosis and how to prove the connection between your diagnosis and your use of 3M earplugs. You'll also need someone who won't be intimated by a defendant like 3M, with deep pockets and a team of attorneys.
The 3M earplugs MDL is the largest in history. You'll need a lawyer who is familiar with the 3M MDL and how it relates to your case.
Learn more about how to find the right personal injury lawyer. When you're ready, you can connect with a lawyer directly from this page for free.