3M is embroiled in the largest multi-district litigation in U.S. history, with nearly 330,000 cases filed and almost 260,000 pending cases. The lawsuits were filed by veterans and active military whose defective Combat Arms Earplugs allowed hearing damage and tinnitus. Despite 3M knowing its’ subsidiary Aearo made defective earplugs, it continued to sell them to the federal government until the military canceled its contract in 2015 after numerous complaints.
Initial cases favor plaintiffs
A whistleblower lawsuit in 2016 resulted in a $9.1 million settlement. 3M went to court in 2019 for the first round of personal injury lawsuits, which eventually consolidated into a multi-district litigation group in Florida. The first case tried resulted in $7.1 million awarded to three plaintiffs. Five more trials yielded a total of $52 million for the plaintiffs. In May of 2022, six more trials were held, with 3M losing five of them and paying $247 million. As of May 2023, 3M has lost 10 of 16 cases, with $265 million awarded to 13 plaintiffs.
Aearo files Chapter 11
The lawsuits caused 3M subsidiary Aearo Technologies LLC to file bankruptcy, but the parent company pledged to set aside $1 billion to fund Aearo’s liabilities. The Minnesota-based company had opposed mediation efforts in Florida’s federal court while the bankruptcy case was pending. Despite the company’s claims, a judge ordered it earlier this month to resume mediation regardless of the bankruptcy, which plaintiffs are fighting, accusing the company of sidestepping its obligations by filing bankruptcy.
What the mediation means
3M CEO Michael Roman has been ordered to attend mediation, listen, and directly engage with the mediators. Roman’s attendance and actions may better ensure that 3M’s board understands where the negotiations stand to evaluate a settlement offer. The bankruptcy case is pending in Indianapolis, where plaintiffs have argued for its dismissal. Decisions on these two matters will have a major impact on the remaining claims.
This law firm is currently representing some plaintiffs who filed claims.