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(Reuters) – A federal bankruptcy judge in Indianapolis jolted 3M Co on Friday, ruling that scores of thousands of military veterans who claim hearing loss from 3M earplugs can continue to litigate their claims against 3M, despite the July 26 bankruptcy of several 3M subsidiaries. The company’s shares, as my colleague Dietrich Knauth reported, dropped 12% Friday and continued falling on Monday morning.
But the decision’s implications extend beyond 3M and the earplug multidistrict litigation. The ruling by U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Jeffrey Graham of Indianapolis should also be a warning to other MDL defendants: A subsidiary’s bankruptcy may not be the escape hatch you’re hoping for.
Graham’s ruling took even seasoned bankruptcy observers such as law professor Lindsey Simon of the University of Georgia School of Law by surprise, since courts frequently agree to extend litigation stays to the parents of bankruptcy subsidiaries. Reuters, for instance, has reported extensively on the so-called Texas two-step, in which solvent companies dump mass tort liability into a newly created