Thousands of plaintiffs pursuing Bair Hugger lawsuits for hip and knee replacement infections allegedly caused by the surgical warming system received a boost this week, after the federal judge overseeing their cases refused to bar their preferred expert witnesses from testifying.
The 3M Company, which markets the Bair Hugger forced air warming system through its Arizant Healthcare, Inc. subsidiary, had filed a motion earlier this year asking the court to exclude the experts and then dismiss the lawsuits for a lack of expert witnesses.
The Bair Hugger surgical warming system was brought to market by Arizant Healthcare in 1987, which was acquired by the 3M Company in 2006. The forced air warming apparatus consists of a portable heater that draws in and warms ambient air. The warmed air is then forced through a flexible tube to a single-use, inflatable blanket that has been draped over the patient.
The Bair Hugger system is currently used in more than 80% of the nation’s hospital to help surgical patients maintain an optimal body temperature.
3M and Arizant are named defendants in more than 4,000 Bair Hugger lawsuits, all of which have been consolidated in a multidistrict litigation currently underway in the U.S. District Court, District of Minnesota.
Plaintiffs involved in the proceeding claim that the Bair Hugger system suffers from a design flaw that allows potentially-contaminated air from the operating room floor to come into contact with an open surgical site. They further claim that this greatly increases the likelihood that patients undergoing hip and knee replacement surgery will develop a deep joint infection at the sight of their implant, resulting in the need for additional treatments and surgeries, as well as potentially permanent disability and even death.
According to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Bair Hugger lawsuit plaintiffs have presented experts who testified that this could occur, as well as a computer model showing how it would happen.
On Wednesday, the judge overseeing the Bair Hugger litigation refused to exclude the plaintiff’s experts or grant summary judgment, citing earlier court rulings that prevented judges from excluding experts unless their opinions were so fundamentally unsupported that they offered no assistance to the jury. The Order further indicated that all parties will be free to cross-examine each other’s experts and present rebuttal testimony during trial.
The Bair Hugger litigation will soon begin a series of bellwether trials, the first of which could be convened in April 2018. Verdicts in these test cases could provide some insight into how other juries might rule in similar forced air warmer lawsuits.