We have previously reported on the 3M $12 billion class action settlement with public water supply companies. When the settlement was first announced in June 2023, the terms came under scrutiny by various state governments principally concerned about the settlement’s indemnity obligations. Those provisions required the public water suppliers to indemnify 3M for claims brought against 3M by third parties such as toxic tort plaintiffs. In July, attorney generals representing 23 states filed a Motion to Intervene in the case, stating their objection that the uncapped indemnity provision could place an undue financial burden on municipal water suppliers and their ratepayers.
The consequence of the states’ objections is that 3M recently dropped the plaintiff class indemnity obligation from the settlement. The settlement is now back on track. Over the coming months, the water suppliers will be able to determine their proposed payout under the complex formula contained in the settlement so that they can determine whether to opt out of the settlement class. Even with the additional time afforded to the class members to determine and assess their individual compensation award, critics of the settlement have pointed out that many public water suppliers will still not have sufficient information to evaluate the cost of upgrading their systems to protect against PFAS contamination, especially where water quality standards on the federal and state level are still emerging. A final hearing for approval of the settlement is scheduled for late February 2024.
The 3M settlement is far from a global solution to the PFAS problem. Clearly, $12 billion will not come close to covering the cost of overhauling our country’s water supply system to prevent PFAS contamination and satisfying all potential claims relating to PFAS-related damage. But it is a start. Whether this settlement will serve as a springboard to other major settlements with individual PFAS manufacturers or a global settlement with state governments (similar to the 1998 tobacco settlement) remains to be seen.