3M’s attempt to block jury trials of more than 230,000 lawsuits accusing it of harming U.S. soldiers faces a key test this week in front of a federal judge in Indianapolis.
U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Jeffrey Graham is set to consider a temporary halt to the lawsuits so that 3M and its bankrupt subsidiary, Aearo Technologies, can try to settle the claims, most of which have been filed by veterans who say the combat arms earplugs left them with hearing damage.
Graham’s decision will echo across the offices of other firms facing massive numbers of product liability lawsuits, Harvard Law School professor Jared Ellias said in an interview.
“To the extent 3M suffers a setback here it’s likely to set off alarm bells in other corporate boardrooms of companies that want to take advantage of the bankruptcy system,” Ellias said.
The Aearo case uses an increasingly popular strategy in which profitable companies use insolvency proceedings to force settlement talks with victims of allegedly harmful products.
Johnson & Johnson and lumber giant Georgia-Pacific have also put units into bankruptcy with the same goal of ending their litigation woes in one place instead of fighting thousands of trials around the country.
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