Minnesota Court Issues Pretrial Order in Bair Hugger Litigation

The federal multidistrict litigation (MDL) involving nearly 700 lawsuits over infections allegedly linked to the use of 3M’s Bair Hugger forced air warmer system continues to move forward in the U.S. District Court, District of Minnesota.

In a pretrial order, the court approved a Plaintiff Fact Sheet for current claimants to use to present information about their cases. The fact sheet is also intended for people who file future Bair Hugger lawsuits or for people whose cases are transferred to the Minnesota court, according to a news release.

The pretrial order stipulates, among other things, that plaintiffs with a currently pending case must complete a fact sheet within 90 days of the order. New claimants or those whose cases are transferred to the litigation in the future must submit a fact sheet no later than 90 days after the filing of their complaint/short-form complaint, or completed transfer, whichever is later, according to the news release.

The Plaintiff Fact Sheet helps to streamline the discovery process, during which the parties collect evidence from each other. Discovery can be complicated in a large litigation like the Bair Hugger MDL. Plaintiffs in the MDL allege that they developed deep joint infections after hip or knee replacement surgery during which the Bair Hugger system was used.

The Bair Hugger surgical warming system was brought to market in 1987 by Arizant Healthcare, Inc. (now a subsidiary of 3M). The system is by thousands of U.S. hospitals to help patients maintain optimal body temperature while under anesthesia. According to Law360, the Bair Hugger increases patient comfort, reduces bleeding, and reduces the risk of infection and post-operative heart attack. The Bair Hugger consists of a portable heater that is connected to an inflatable blanket. Warm air circulates to the patient through the Bair Hugger blanket.

Plaintiffs in the Bair Hugger lawsuits allege that because of a design defect, heat from the warming unit can build up under the operating table, creating air currents that blow contaminants from the floor onto open incisions, particularly during joint-replacement surgeries. Some patients develop deep joint infections that can be very difficult to treat. Patients have needed additional surgeries—in some cases, the joint device must be removed and replaced—and antibiotics and other treatments to control the infection. The infection can lead to sepsis, a life-threatening complication of an infection. The Mayo Clinic explains that if sepsis progresses to septic shock, organs fail and the patient’s blood pressure drops dramatically, which may result in death.

Legal documents allege that 3M Company and Arizant have known of this problem for years but failed to make design corrections or warn the medical community. Dr. Scott Augustine, the Bair Hugger’s inventor, told the New York Times in 2010 that he believes the Bair Hugger, though an improvement over earlier surgical warming devices, creates a danger of infection when used on a patient receiving a joint implant or a heart valve. Dr. Augustine feels 3M should recall the device.


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