3M Starts Issuing Payments to Veterans in $6 Billion Settlement Over Earplugs

3M Starts Issuing Payments to Veterans in $6 Billion Settlement Over Earplugs

A U.S. military combat earplug supplier started to pay out the first of billions in a settlement to thousands of veterans who alleged in lawsuits that the earplugs caused hearing loss.

On Dec. 26, 3M made a payment of around $250 million to the Qualified Settlement Fund, which will go to between 25,000 to 30,000 claimants who have agreed to dismiss their claims in return. The company said this week it would pay out $253 million by Jan. 31.

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The first wave of compensation comes after 3M agreed to pay out a total of $6 billion between 2023 and 2029––$5 billion in cash and $1 billion in 3M stock––to resolve the years-long Combat Arms Earplug litigation against 3M and its subsidiary Aearo Technologies. 

The company said in a statement posted on its website last year that “this agreement is not an admission of liability. The products at issue in this litigation are safe and effective when used properly.”

3M chairman and chief executive officer Mike Roman previously said in a statement in 2022: “We have great respect for the brave men and women who protect us, and remain committed to the military as an active partner and valued customer going forward.”

The current-day settlement began in 2016 with a lawsuit from 3M’s competitor, Moldex-Metric, which alleged that 3M sold “dangerously defective” Combat Arms earplugs, standard issue to certain branches of the U.S. military during foreign conflicts between 2003 and 2015, including in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, without disclosing a defect that “likely caused thousands of soldiers to suffer significant hearing loss and tinnitus.”

Tinnitus is a medical condition characterized by ringing in the ears. It has no cure, although treatment can mitigate it.

In 2018, 3M agreed to pay $9 million to the U.S. Justice Department to settle allegations that it sold the earplugs to the military without disclosing the defect, with no determination of liability.

That settlement was followed by a wave of complaints from thousands of combat veterans seeking compensation. In one complaint, former serviceman Nathan Frei said he started suffering from tinnitus––a constant ringing that sometimes affects his sleep––during his service from 2011 to 2015, CNBC reported.

Those suits were consolidated in one case in the Northern District of Florida. As of the beginning of this year, there were 276,568 plaintiffs with actions pending in that case.

A judge rejected Aearo’s bankruptcy claim last June, leaving the company on the hook for the payouts, which it agreed to in August.

TIME has reached out to 3M and the plaintiffs’ attorney for information on when more payouts are expected and how many claimants will receive them. 

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