A South Carolina retiree went to court in Minnesota yesterday, in a bid to obtain compensation for a debilitating joint infection he claims was caused by the 3M Company’s Bair Hugger forced air warming blanket.
The 3M Bair Hugger blanket is one of the most popular medical devices in the world and is used by approximately 80% of the nation’s hospitals to prevent hypothermia in patients undergoing surgery. However, plaintiffs in more than 4,000 Bair Hugger lawsuits claim that the device suffers from a design defect that allows contaminated air to enter the surgical site, greatly increasing the odds that individuals undergoing hip or knee replacement surgery will develop a post-operative infection at the site of their implant.
Federally-filed Bair Hugger lawsuits have been centralized in the U.S. District Court, District of Minnesota, for coordinated discovery and other pretrial proceedings. The verdict in the litigation’s first bellwether trial, which began on May 14th, could provide insight into how other juries might rule in similar claims.
The Bair Hugger lawsuit chosen for trial was filed on behalf Louis Gareis, 76, who underwent right total knee replacement surgery in November 2010. He later went on to develop a deep joint infection, allegedly because the Bair Hugger was used during his implant surgery. His infection has forced Gareis to undergo cleaning procedures, intravenous antibiotic treatment, insertion of antibiotic spacers, and the removal and revision of his knee replacement.
The Bair Hugger forced air warmer blanket was introduced in 1987. 3M acquired the system when it purchased Arizant Healthcare, Inc. in 2006. The Bair Hugger’s inventor, Scott Augustine, MD, claims that he told 3M that the device could cause infections prior to the acquisition.
The Bair Hugger system consists of a portable heater that is connected via flexible plastic tubing to a disposable, inflatable blanket designed to be draped over or placed under patients undergoing surgery. Ambient air is drawn into the heater and forced through the tube into the blanket, which then pumps the warmed air around the patient.
Gareis and other plaintiffs claim that Bair Hugger’s design is defective and disrupts normal airflow in the operating room, allowing potentially-contaminated air from the floor to come into contact with the surgical site. They also allege that the system’s central heating unit can house bacteria that may be forced out and transferred to the patient during normal use.
For it’s part, 3M maintains that the science behind the plaintiffs’ claims is faulty and insists that the Bair Hugger has been used on millions of patients over the past 25 years without incident.