250,000 Veterans Agree to $6 Billion Settlement with 3M over Earplugs Alleged to Cause Hearing Loss

Oregon Army National Guardsman plugs his ears during a live fire mission
Oregon Army National Guardsman plugs his ears during a live fire mission, May 22, 2016 at the Yakima Training Center near Yakima, Washington. (U.S. Army photo by Capt. Leslie Reed)

A $6 billion settlement in a series of lawsuits over allegations that earplugs sold to the military by manufacturing giant 3M during the height of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars caused hearing damage will move forward after nearly 250,000 veterans and service members agreed to accept the deal, the company announced this week.

The settlement in what has been one of the largest federal mass tort cases in U.S. history was announced in August, but the deal stipulated that it would move forward only if at least 98% of the veterans who filed claims against 3M agreed to it. With the deadline for veterans to opt-in now past, the company announced Tuesday that 99% of eligible claimants have agreed to participate in the settlement.

"Once all the settlement registrations that have been submitted by claimants have been processed and validated, 3M anticipates that the settlement will have achieved a more than 99.9% participation level," the company said in a news release.

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The cases revolved around 3M's Combat Arms Earplugs, Version 2, that were issued to troops between 2003 and 2015. The earplugs were dual-sided with one side meant to block out all sound and the other meant to protect from loud sounds such as explosions while letting the user hear soft noises such as speech.

Lawsuits filed by nearly 300,000 veterans and service members alleged the earplugs had design flaws that allowed them to slip in users' ears without them noticing, letting in damaging noise and resulting in hearing loss or tinnitus. Before the settlement, some lawsuits had gone to trial and saw mixed results.

Out of more 293,000 claims filed before the settlement, more than 249,000 claimants registered to participate in the settlement and more than 41,000 claims were dismissed by courts, 3M said Tuesday.

While it agreed to the settlement, 3M continues to deny liability and maintains the earplugs were "safe and effective for its intended purpose" when "used properly."

Bryan Aylstock, a lead attorney for the plaintiffs, told Military.com on Wednesday his team is happy to see the settlement moving forward.

"We're definitely pleased with the level of support both from service members and veterans, also veterans service organizations, and pleased with settlement itself," he said in a brief phone interview.

While veterans groups backed the settlement and the vast majority of claimants opted-in, some veterans have been vocal about believing the deal did not go far enough.

Some settlement payments were already issued earlier this year, but the bulk will be paid out on a rolling basis through 2029. Under the terms of the settlement, the exact amount each claimant will get will be based on their medical records.

The settlement agreement is being managed by litigation management firm BrownGreer, which has set up a website for claimants to track the settlement at www.combatarmssettlement.com.

Related: 3M Sets Up $1 Billion Trust to Settle Veterans' Suits over Earplugs

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