Bair Hugger Lawsuits on the Rise

Over 1,000 Bair Hugger Lawsuits Consolidated into a MDL
Over 1,000 Bair Hugger Lawsuits Consolidated into a MDL

Over 1,000 Bair Hugger Lawsuits Consolidated into a Multidistrict Litigation (MDL)

In the past two and a-half decades, the Bair Hugger warming system has been used in approximately 200 million patient surgeries. The system was originally designed to ensure patients were kept warm and prevent hypothermia during surgical procedures. Meanwhile, patients have alleged serious injuries, including deep joint infections due to the use of the Bair Hugger.

According to court records, in the 30 days between December 15, 2016 and January 15, 2017, an additional 166 Bair Hugger lawsuits were organized in the pending Bair Hugger multidistrict litigation (MDL). These lawsuits represent a combination of newly filed lawsuits and pre-existing lawsuits that were newly transferred to the MDL. As of January 15, 2017, some 1,105 cases were pending in the MDL: In Re: Bair Hugger Forced Air Warming Products Liability Litigation—MDL No. 2666, filed in the U.S. District Court, District of Minnesota. Court records indicate that as of January 15, 2017, a total of 1,105 Bair Hugger lawsuits were pending in the MDL.

Plaintiffs allege the Bair Hugger design is flawed and promotes deep joint infection. The device is a disposable warming blanket that is draped over the patient and is connected via a flexible hose to an electrical unit that gently transfers warmed, ambient air through the hose to the warming blanket. According to plaintiffs, bacteria and other pathogens that reside on the surgery room floor may be transferred to the surgical site by the Bair Hugger system, which alters the airflow in the room. Allegations include that the Bair Hugger system negatively impacts the controlled airflow that normally helps in infection reduction in the operating room by bringing up potentially infectious pathogens towards the surgical site from the floor.

Various Bair Hugger deep joint lawsuits allege that hip and knee replacement procedures are particularly susceptible to infection complications. At least two plaintiffs allege their loss of a leg due to amputation caused by a deep joint infection originating from use of the Bair Hugger warming blanket.

An MDL is a type of mass tort that is created by the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) and which organizes lawsuits with common questions of fact together in one court. MDLs are meant to make complex litigation more efficient by eliminating duplicate pretrial proceedings, including the discovery process and expert testimonies. Consolidation makes the litigation move along faster than if the cases proceeded individually in court.

According to a pretrial order dated March 24, 2016, bellwether cases in the Bair Hugger MDL are to be chosen by March 1, 2017. Bellwethers represent the first several lawsuits in a mass tort to reach trial. Selected plaintiffs typically represent the other plaintiffs in the litigation; therefore, bellwether trials gauge the direction of the overall litigation. For example, bellwether trial outcomed may facilitate settlement talks if juries award large verdicts to the plaintiffs.

The personal injury attorneys at Parker Waichman LLP have decades of experience representing clients in lawsuits over injuries allegedly caused by defective or dangerous medical devices. The firm continues to offer free legal consultations to individuals with questions about filing a Bair Hugger forced-air warming blanket lawsuit.

In 2013, a Baltimore man undergoing knee replacement surgery in which the Bair Hugger blanket was used, developed Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). He underwent two additional surgeries to treat the infection and eventually, the knee implant was removed and the infected area was cleaned out. The surgeries took place less than eight months after his initial knee replacement surgery.

If a joint infection cannot be controlled, the infection may lead to sepsis, a potentially life-threatening complication. Sepsis may lead to septic shock in which organs may fail and blood pressure dramatically drops, which may result in death, according to the Mayo Clinic. Of note, MRSA is resistant to many different antibiotics and very difficult to treat.

In a lawsuit three women filed on behalf of a man who underwent cardiac mitral valve replacement surgery and suffered a severe surgical site infection resulting in his death, according to the Louisiana Record. The plaintiffs allege 3M was responsible and allegedly designed, manufactured, promoted, marketed, and distributed the defective device. The women also allege that 3M concealed, and continues to conceal, its knowledge of the Bair Hugger’s dangerous risks from the public and the medical community.

A woman in Texas filed a lawsuit alleging that the Bair Hugger warming blanket was the cause of an infection that led to the amputation of her leg. In 2013, the woman underwent knee replacement surgery and the Bair Hugger blanket was used during the surgery to maintain her body temperature. Following surgery, she developed a MRSA infection in her knee. The lawsuit alleges that multiple surgeries were performed in an attempt to fight the infection, but physicians were ultimately forced to amputate her leg above the knee.

What is the Bair Hugger Warming Blanket System?

The Bair Hugger warming blanket system was originally developed and marketed by Arizant Healthcare Inc. Arizant introduced the Bair Hugger in 1987 and, later, 3M acquired Arizant’s products. 3M now faces a growing number of Bair Hugger system lawsuits.

The original idea behind the Bair Hugger concerned the prevention of hypothermia during the course of long procedures. Surgical rooms are typically at lower temperatures to help mitigate the growth of bacteria and to promote alertness among surgeons and their team.

Over 1,000 Bair Hugger Lawsuits Consolidated into a MDL
Over 1,000 Bair Hugger Lawsuits Consolidated into a MDL

Dr. Scott Augustine created the Bair Hugger and has since advocated against its use, saying that the forced-air design of the blanket does cause contaminants to be picked up off the operating room floor and introduced into the surgical site, which may lead to deep joint infections.

The Bone & Joint Journal published a study in 2011 revealing that the forced-air warming system was tied to a “significant increase in deep joint infection.” Another study published in that journal in 2013 cited “tornado-like vortexes” that may result from Bair Hugger device use. Many believe that the disruption in airflow introduces contaminants into the patient’s surgical site.

Commenting on the alleged risk, Dr. Augustine said that, “We studied this extensively for about 18 months. I can tell you with 100 percent certainty that the waste heat rises every single time. This was reported before 3M even bought the company,” according to the Star Tribune. “3M can say that it doesn’t happen…. But when you are going against a basic law of physics, it’s kind of an absurd thing to say.”

Legal Help for Individuals Filing a Bair Hugger Lawsuit

If you or someone you know suffered an infection following a surgical procedure that used a Bair Hugger forced-air warming blanket, you may have valuable legal rights. The personal injury attorneys at Parker Waichman offer free, no-obligation case evaluations. For more information, please callus at 1-800-YOURLAWYER (1-800-968-7529).