The federal litigation established for what could be thousands of hip and knee replacement infection lawsuits involving the 3M Bair Hugger forced air warming blanket is officially underway. The first Pretrial Order has been issued in the proceeding, and indicates that the Court will soon schedule the first of its regular status conferences.
The Bair Hugger is a forced air warming blanket marketed by the 3M Company’s Arizant Healthcare, Inc. subsidiary. Since its launch on the market in the late 1980s, the device has become standard in most U.S hospitals. The Bair Hugger apparatus includes a heater and blower connected to a blanket through a plastic tube. During surgical procedures, the disposable, single-use warming blanket is draped over a patient’s body, and hot air is blown onto exposed areas of the skin. Thus, patients are able to maintain an optimal body temperature during their surgery.
The Bair Hugger litigation was created in December 2015 by the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict litigation. Initially, just over a dozen cases involving the forced air warming blanket’s alleged association with serious post-op knee and hip replacement infections were centralized in the U.S. District Court, District of Minnesota. But recently issued court documents indicate that at least 82 such claims are now pending in the litigation. According to Pretrial Order No. 1 dated January 13th, discovery has been stayed of those cases pending the litigation’s first conference and further order of the Court. The first status conference will be convened in February on a date yet to be determined.
Plaintiffs currently pursuing Bair Hugger lawsuits claim that the system suffers from a design flaw that allows the sterile surgical field to become exposed to bacteria and other contaminants from the operating room floor. Should these pathogens come into contact with implantable devices used in hip and knee replacement surgery, patients may develop dangerous post-op deep joint infections, including MRSA and sepsis. Rather providing accurate and complete warnings about this risk, altering the design of the device or issuing a Bair Hugger recall, the lawsuits charge that 3M and Arizant have provided false and misleading information about the infection risk to consumers and the medical community.
Because use of the Bair Hugger is so widespread, plaintiffs assert that hundreds similar lawsuits could be filed in the near future. As such, all federal claims were centralized in the District of Minnesota, so that the docket can undergo coordinated pretrial proceedings in order to promote judicial efficiency. This process will aid in avoiding duplicate discovery and inconsistent court rulings across the docket, and will preserve the resources of the court, parties and witnesses.