3M (NYSE: MMM) is nearing a settlement with attorneys representing hundreds of thousands of veterans who say the company’s earplugs failed to protect them from hearing loss, according to media reports citing people close to the discussions.
Bloomberg News and The Wall Street Journal say the manufacturing giant would pay $5.5 billion under the tentative deal. Experts had previously suggested that 3M could end up paying much more if all the cases went to trial.
The news comes more than two months after a federal judge in Indianapolis rejected 3M subsidiary Aearo Technologies’ Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing. 3M had sought to use the bankruptcy as a strategy to shield itself from some liability and reach a deal with plaintiffs’ lawyers, but U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Jeffrey Graham said 3M’s financial support of the subsidiary meant that it was too early to seek protection.
Meanwhile, 3M continues to move forward with plans to spin off its Health Care business as a separate company by late 2023 or early 2024 — a move that earplug lawsuit plaintiffs’ lawyers had opposed because they said it could reduce resources to support lawsuit payments. Last week, 3M announced that Zimmer Biomet CEO Bryan Hanson is leaving the top spot at ZB in order to take over 3M’s healthcare business, effective Sept. 1.
If it becomes a reality, the $5.5 billion settlement would come on top of a proposed 13-year, $10.3 billion settlement with public water systems across the U.S. for testing and cleanup related to so-called “forever chemicals.”