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3M: A $6 Billion Settlement for Earplugs That Didn’t Work


It’s not often that a company holds full responsibility for years of negligence that has caused harm to the public. However, in a recent case that has made headlines, Minnesota-based company 3M Company agreed to pay $6 billion to settle lawsuits from US service members. The lawsuits claimed that 3M had sold defective earplugs that didn’t work, causing hearing damage and tinnitus. This groundbreaking case is a victory for the service members who were affected, and it serves as an important reminder to companies to prioritize safety over profit.


3M to establish $1B trust for legal claims over 'defective' combat earplugs  - 5 Eyewitness News

1. The lawsuit details

3M had won a bid in 2006 to become the exclusive supplier of earplugs for all branches of the US military. The Combat Arms Earplugs Version 2 (CAEV2) were originally developed by Aearo Technologies, and 3M acquired Aearo in 2008. The lawsuit claimed that the earplugs did not protect service members from loud explosions and machinery noises, despite being designed to do so while allowing them to hear spoken orders. As a result, thousands of service members suffered from hearing damage or tinnitus, two conditions that can be both permanent and extremely debilitating.

2. The company’s defense

3M denies any wrongdoing and maintains that the earplugs were not defective. In fact, the company insists that the design of the earplugs was made according to the requirements of the military, and that the earplugs have been subject to rigorous testing and certification procedures. However, in a damning internal memo that has come to light, a 3M employee warned that the earplugs were too short and failed to create a tight enough seal in many individuals. It is unclear whether this information was communicated to the military at the time.

3M Earplugs Fight Stems From Self-Made Legal Battle - WSJ

3. The impact of hearing damage and tinnitus

Hearing loss and tinnitus are serious health issues that can result in physiological, psychological, and financial hardships. Individuals who are affected by these conditions usually report difficulty with communication, feelings of isolation and depression, and struggles with employment and socialization. Furthermore, the Department of Veterans Affairs reports that tinnitus and hearing loss are the two most common service-related disabilities, and the prevalence of these issues is startlingly high among veterans, with more than 1.5 million veterans receiving benefits for tinnitus alone.

4. The settlement and its implications

3M’s $6 billion settlement is one of the largest payouts in a whistleblower lawsuit, and the company has resolved to pay it with cash on hand. The settlement is a major victory for the service members who were affected, some of whom have been living with the consequences of 3M’s negligence for more than a decade. It serves as an important reminder to companies that they can’t prioritize profit over safety, and that failure to live up to safety standards can have significant repercussions. However, the settlement also highlights issues with the defense procurement process and questions how the military can ensure safety when working with private contractors.


3M’s settlement is a reminder that safety should never be compromised in the name of profit. Service members put their lives on the line for their country, and they deserve to be equipped with the best possible gear to keep them safe. Unfortunately, in this case, a company put profits over people, and thousands of service members paid the price. The settlement may not undo the damage that has been done, but it sends a message to companies that there are consequences for negligence. It also brings attention to the need for effective safety oversight in a high-risk industry. We can only hope that this case will initiate positive changes in the military procurement practices and encourage other companies to prioritize safety over profits.