An attempt by 3M Company to declare bankruptcy in an effort to lessen the financial toll of pending lawsuits by veterans alleging hearing loss has been denied.
The Aug. 26 decision by an Indiana bankruptcy judge marks another step in a legal fight against 3M — the manufacturers of the combat earplug once mass-produced for the military — that began in 2019, when hundreds of veterans sued the company for issuing earplugs that failed to maintain a tight seal and allowed dangerously loud sounds to cause damage without the wearer’s awareness.
More than 230,000 lawsuits allege that the Minnesota-based manufacturer not only issued defective earplugs, but did so while failing to warn users of the defect. Allegations also include numerous cases in which 3M failed to provide proper usage instructions, according to a copy of one lawsuit provided to Military Times.
For those service members who used 3M’s trademarked, dual-ended Combat Arms earplugs between 2003 and 2015, the aforementioned design blunders allegedly resulted in hearing loss, tinnitus and loss of balance.
Documents from previous lawsuits against 3M, filed on behalf of service members and the Defense Department, show that the manufacturing company was aware that their earplugs were inadequate as early as 2000, but withheld this information for another 16 years.
If 3M had been successful in their recent attempt to have one of their subsidiary companies, Aearo Technologies LLC, declare bankruptcy, the company may have also been able to extend the resulting litigation freeze to themselves as the parent company.
Instead, the company is reportedly planning to appeal the judge’s bankruptcy decision, according to a report by Fortune Magazine.
“This leaves them right back in the place they started before they filed the bankruptcy,” Alexandra Lahav, a Cornell University law professor, said in an interview with Fortune. “It’s pretty clear they need to negotiate some kind of global resolution of these cases.”
Of the hundreds of thousands of pending lawsuits, one Florida-based case is slated to go to trial before a federal judge on Oct. 24. The case is on behalf of a U.S. Army Reserves veteran with four years of active-duty deployment time.
To date, 3M has paid out more $300 million in damages to service members and the DoD for injuries resulting from the defective combat earplugs.
Rachel is a Marine Corps veteran and a master's candidate at New York University's Business & Economic Reporting program.