3M, a multinational conglomerate, has agreed to pay $6 billion to settle hundreds of thousands of lawsuits filed by US military veterans and service members, who claim they suffered hearing loss and tinnitus from using defective earplugs supplied by the company.
The settlement, which was announced this week, is one of the largest in US history and has sparked a lot of interest and discussion on social media. Here are some key facts and questions about the earplug lawsuit and its implications.
What are the earplugs and How did they cause hearing damage?
The earplugs in question are called Combat Arms Earplugs Version 2 (CAEv2), which were designed to protect soldiers’ hearing from loud noises such as gunfire and explosions, while allowing them to hear low-level sounds such as commands and enemy movements.
The earplugs had two modes: an open mode that blocked loud sounds but let in soft sounds, and a closed mode that blocked all sounds. The earplugs were made by Aearo Technologies, a company that 3M acquired in 2008. They were used by the US military in training and combat from 2003 to 2015, including in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The plaintiffs in the lawsuits allege that the earplugs were defective, and did not fit properly in the ear canal, causing them to loosen and let in harmful sounds.
They also claim that 3M knew about the design flaws, falsified test results, and failed to provide proper instructions for using the earplugs, resulting in widespread hearing damage among service members.
According to a 2021 report by the Wall Street Journal, more than 1.7 million veterans received disability compensation for hearing loss or tinnitus in 2019, making them the most prevalent service-related disabilities.
How Did the 3M Earplugs Lawsuit Start, and How Did it End?
The lawsuit against 3M was initiated by the US Department of Justice in 2016, after two whistleblowers who worked for Aearo Technologies revealed the company’s alleged misconduct. The whistleblowers filed a complaint under the False Claims Act, which allows private citizens to sue on behalf of the government for fraud. In 2018, 3M agreed to pay $9.1 million to settle the government’s claims, but did not admit any wrongdoing or liability.
However, the settlement did not cover the individual claims of service members who suffered hearing damage from using the earplugs. As a result, hundreds of thousands of veterans and active-duty personnel filed their own lawsuits against 3M, seeking compensation for their injuries.
The lawsuits were consolidated before US District Judge M Casey Rodgers in Pensacola, Florida, federal court in 2019. At its peak, the litigation accounted for about 30 percent of all federal court cases nationwide.
Of the 16 earplug cases that have gone to trial so far, 3M has lost 10, with about $265 million being awarded in total to 13 plaintiffs. The largest verdict was $7.1 million for a single plaintiff in May 2021. Facing mounting legal pressure and public scrutiny, 3M decided to settle the remaining cases for $6 billion, consisting of $5 billion in cash and $1 billion in stock.
The settlement will be paid over several years and will cover about 240,000 eligible claimants. The settlement is not an admission of liability by 3M, which maintains that the earplugs are safe and effective when used properly.
Why is the 3M Earplugs Lawsuit Settlement Going Viral on Social Media?
The settlement has attracted a lot of attention and reactions on social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Reddit, and TikTok. Many users have expressed their support and gratitude for the service members who fought for their country, and suffered hearing damage as a result.
Some people shared their own stories of hearing loss or tinnitus, to convey how challenging it can be. Others have criticized 3M for its alleged negligence and deception, and called for more accountability and transparency from corporations that supply important products to people in general.
Chris Seeger, the lead lawyer for the plaintiffs is now a living legend in some people eyes.