Judge’s Ruling Means 3M Subsidiary Can’t Use Bankruptcy to Settle Defective Ear Plug Lawsuits

Judge’s Ruling Means 3M Subsidiary Can’t Use Bankruptcy to Settle Defective Ear Plug Lawsuits

Aearo Technologies LLC, a subset of 3M, is facing a wave of product liability lawsuits related to their defective military-grade earplugs that failed to properly protect users’ hearing. The company had filed for bankruptcy, but an Indiana bankruptcy court has rejected its claim on the basis that it failed to meet the financial criteria for bankruptcy. This ruling represents a meaningful shift in policy for companies considering using bankruptcy as a tool to avoid the ramifications of litigating mass tort claims.

For the plaintiffs in the 3M ear plug lawsuits, the judge’s refusal to allow Aearo Technologies to claim bankruptcy means that Aearo and 3M may be forced back to the negotiating table to settle their claims. It is critical for veterans who have experienced hearing loss related to the use of 3M’s defective military earplugs to have a qualified product liability lawyer by their side to ensure that they are properly compensated for their damages. Product liability lawyers have the skill set necessary to navigate the complexities of a multidistrict litigation and negotiate for maximum compensation in a 3M product liability lawsuit.

Courts Growing Resistant to Companies Using Bankruptcy as a Strategy Against Product Liability Lawsuits

By declaring bankruptcy, Aearo Technologies had hoped to absolve itself of liability in future product liability claims and cap the amount that they would be ordered to pay out in settlements for 3M earplug claims. This effort has been at least temporarily thwarted by a recent decision in the US Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of Indiana. Judge Jeffrey J. Graham dismissed Aearo Technologies' bankruptcy case on June 9th, 2023.

Judge Graham justified his ruling by explaining that Aearo Technologies lacked a legitimate financial reason to claim Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Aearo Technologies is financially backed by wealthy parent company 3M, and Aearo Technologies’ motivation appeared to be to preserve their profits rather than a true need for reorganization of their company. 

This ruling has temporarily prevented Aearo Technologies from settling 230,000 product liability lawsuits related to their defective military earplugs. Aearo Technologies has let it be known that they intend to appeal Judge Graham’s dismissal in the Seventh Circut in hopes that their bankruptcy claim may move forward. This is all happening in the midst of 3M fielding claims that they are liable for significant damages related to PFAS water contamination, meaning that they have additional motivation to protect their profits. 

Companies Claim Bankruptcy to Limit Liability With Mixed Success

This is not the first time that a company facing mass tort claims has attempted to circumvent the negotiation process by forcing a bankruptcy settlement. A recent ruling from the Third Circuit prevented a Johnson & Johnson subsidiary, LTL Management, from securing bankruptcy relief to avoid the product liability lawsuits pertaining to their carcinogenic talcum powder. 

This demonstrates an increased willingness to prevent companies from utilizing bankruptcy as a tool to avoid settling claims. On the other hand, some companies have been legitimately forced into bankruptcy due to mass tort claims. For example, AFFF manufacturer Kidde-Fenwal has declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy because the amount of liability they have exceeds the monetary value of their current assets. 

In this case, their declaration of bankruptcy has been approved. This will allow them to exit the MDL, stop accruing litigation costs, and pay out settlement from the compensation they receive for the sale of the company. If the Seventh Circuit Court overturns Judge Graham’s ruling, 3M and Aearo Technologies may be able to follow suit in the defective earplug claims.

3M Facing Product Liability Lawsuits Over Defective Military Ear Plugs

Thousands of military members relied on 3M Combat Arms earplugs to protect their hearing from the volume of gunfire, explosions, heavy machinery, and other sources while serving at home and abroad. 3M, which owns Aearo Technologies, had an exclusive contract with the U.S. military to provide service members with these earplugs. In order to compensate for an original design that caused the plugs to protrude and interfere with helmets, 3M shortened the design of the earplugs.

As a result, the earplugs no longer afforded the proper protection to service members. Over time, many sustained partial or total hearing loss and tinnitus. To make matters worse, 3M was aware that the earplugs were ineffective, but failed to alert the military. Veterans are now pursuing product liability claims against the manufacturers of these earplugs based on their design failures. 

3M Combat Arms Earplugs Multidistrict Litigation (MDL)

The product liability claims have since been consolidated into a multidistrict litigation, which will allow the plaintiffs involved to share resources while maintaining their ability to recover compensation according to their own damages. While the multidistrict litigation progresses into mediation, 3M and Aearo Technologies are still attempting to pursue the bankruptcy angle. For plaintiffs, this means that time is of the essence, and they should not delay in seeking legal assistance. 

Recovering Compensation in a 3M Combat Arms Earplugs Lawsuit

Veterans seeking compensation in the 3M defective combat arms earplugs lawsuits should consider the short and long-term effects associated with their hearing loss. Military members who lose their hearing due to these defective earplugs may be forced to take a medical discharge from the service, leaving them without a career, source of income, and a more limited community.

This can also lead to mental health issues, as unexpectedly exiting the service can represent a loss of identity for many.  As plaintiffs, veterans may recover compensation for both economic damages, which are financial losses, and non-economic damages, which represent more subjective losses.

Examples of Damages in a 3M Defective Combat Arms Earplug Lawsuit:

  • Medical bills
    • Lab tests
    • Hearing aids
  • Job-related losses
    • Lost wages
    • Missed promotions
    • Job retraining
    • Reduced earning capacity
  • Pain and suffering
  • Loss of quality of life

Contact an Experienced Product Liability Lawyer for Help With Your 3M Combat Arms Earplugs Lawsuit

Veterans who have experienced hearing loss or tinnitus after using 3M Combat Arms earplugs may be entitled to seek compensation for their damages in a product liability lawsuit. Even though these claims are being considered as a multidistrict litigation, it is still to an individual plaintiff’s benefit to secure their own personal injury attorney to demonstrate the connection between their injuries and their damages, protect their rights, and make a convincing case for maximum compensation.


Matthew Dolman

Personal Injury Lawyer

This article was written and reviewed by Matthew Dolman. Matt has been a practicing civil trial, personal injury, products liability, and mass tort lawyer since 2004. He has represented over 11,000 injury victims and has served as lead counsel in over 1000 lawsuits. Matt is a lifetime member of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum and Multi-Million Dollar Advocates Forum for resolving individual cases in excess of $1 million and $2 million, respectively. He has also been selected by his colleagues as a Florida Superlawyer and as a member of Florida’s Legal Elite on multiple occasions. Further, Matt has been quoted in the media numerous times and is a sought-after speaker on a variety of legal issues and topics.

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