How would 3M account for the contingent liability arising from an environmental lawsuit?

The State of Minnesota is suing 3M (NYSE:MMM) for $5 billion in damages, alleging that 3M dumped chemicals it produced into landfills from the 1940s through the 1970s. The State asserts that those chemicals have now leached into local groundwater, affecting about 60,000 residents. 3M’s attorneys have responded that the chemicals have not been proven to have any negative effects on humans.


  1. What is a contingent liability?
  2. What are the three potential accounting treatments for a contingent liability?
  3. In your opinion, how do you think 3M will treat this contingent liability?

Instructor Resources

These resources are provided to give the instructor flexibility for use of Accounting in the Headlines articles in the classroom. The blog posting itself can be assigned via a link to this site OR by distributing the student handout below. Alternatively, the PowerPoint file below contains a bullet point overview of the article and the discussion questions.

  • Student handout (pdf) (word) (contains entire blog posting + discussion questions)
  • PowerPoint file (brief article overview + discussion questions)

Copyright 2018 Wendy M. Tietz, LLC

About Dr. Wendy Tietz, CPA, CMA, CSCA, CGMA

Dr. Wendy Tietz is a professor of accounting at Kent State University in Kent, Ohio, USA. She is also a textbook author with Pearson Education.

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