3M to settle US veterans' hearing loss lawsuits for $6 billion

Thousands of veterans complained of hearing loss in case against production giant

In 2008, 3M acquired Aearo Technologies, which sold earplugs to the US military. AP
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Manufacturing giant 3M has reached a $6 billion settlement over claims by US military veterans that its earplugs were faulty and failed to protect their hearing.

The company on Tuesday said it hoped the agreement would draw a line under the long-running legal saga, in which it was hit by thousands of lawsuits by veterans complaining of hearing loss.

Under the mediated agreement, 3M will “contribute a total amount of $6 billion between 2023 and 2029, which is structured under the agreement to include $5 billion in cash and $1 billion in 3M common stock”, it said in a statement.

In 2008, 3M acquired Aearo Technologies, which sold the earplugs to the American military between 2003 and 2015.

In its statement, 3M did not admit liability for the products, which it said were “safe and effective when used properly”.

It added it was prepared to “continue to defend itself in the litigation if certain agreed terms of the settlement agreement are not fulfilled”.

Analysts had been expecting a substantially larger settlement than the figure the company unveiled.

The financial markets have reacted positively, with 3M shares ending Monday up more than 5 per cent.

The stock notched further gains on Wall Street on Tuesday following news of the settlement.

3M has been looking to make progress on a series of lawsuits brought against it in recent years, including thousands relating long-lasting chemicals known as PFAS – short for per and polyfluoroalkyl substances.

Also known as “forever chemicals”, there are accusations they may have contaminated US drinking water.

PFAS have been detected all over the globe in water, air, fish and soil, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency, which says scientific studies have shown exposure to them could be linked to harmful health effects in humans and animals.

In June, 3M agreed to pay more than $10 billion to settle lawsuits over contamination of many US public water systems related to PFAS.

“This is an important step forward for 3M,” chief executive Mike Roman.

He said the company would “exit all PFAS manufacturing by the end of 2025”.

In the settlement, the company said this payment would be made over a period of 13 years.

As in the case announced on Tuesday, 3M did not admit liability and said it was “prepared to continue to defend itself in the litigation”.

Updated: August 29, 2023, 7:50 PM