The mountain of legal cases facing 3M Co. over its military-grade earplugs — it’s facing tens of thousands of lawsuits from veterans and potentially more than $1 billion in liability — may have its roots in a much smaller intellectual-property fight with another earplug maker.
That’s the takeaway from a report in The Wall Street Journal, which delves into the legal history behind 3M’s Combat Arms earplugs. The earplugs have drawn legal complaints from veterans who say they damaged their hearing.
But the company has lost more than half the 16 lawsuits decided so far, with damages ranging from $1.7 million to more than $75 million. 3M is appealing some of the cases, but there are tens of thousands more ahead; a judge has ordered settlement talks.
3M got into the earplug business when it bought Aearo Technologies Inc. for $1.2 billion in 2008. A few years later, the Journal