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Woman Alleges Bair Hugger Surgical Blanket Caused Burn Injuries

Nov 21, 2016

3M Sued over Burn Injuries, Allegedly Caused by Bair Hugger Surgical Warming Blanket

3M is facing another lawsuit alleging injuries from its Bair Hugger forced-air surgical warming blanket. Unlike most other personal injury claims alleging the Bair Hugger caused infections, however, this particular lawsuit alleges burn injuries. The Bair Hugger is a blanket used in over 80 percent of hospitals in the United States during surgery; it is used to combat the drop in temperature that comes with anesthesia. Warm air is pumped into a blanket, which is draped over the patient's body.

The plaintiff alleges that manufacturers 3M and Arizant Healthcare designed the device defectively. She is seeking compensation for her injuries, and alleges that the companies are liable.

The personal injury attorneys at Parker Waichman LLP note that this is an unusual Bair Hugger lawsuit. Hundreds of other Bair Hugger claims allege that the blanket caused a surgical site injury, mostly in knee and hip replacement patients. The firm continues to offer free legal consultations to patients with questions about filing a Bair Hugger lawsuit.

More than 800 Bair Hugger Lawsuits Filed, Alleging Infections

A multidistrict litigation (MDL) has been established for federal Bair Hugger lawsuits in Minnesota. With hundreds of lawsuits filed, the litigation continues to move forward. As of Oct. 17, 2016 809 Bair Hugger lawsuits were transferred into the MDL. The personal injury lawyers at Parker Waichman LLP note that the number of filings has increased by 116 cases since September 15th, when the JPML reported 693 lawsuits in the MDL.

When the MDL was first created in December 2015, there were only 14 Bair Hugger claims.

An MDL is a type of mass tort that consolidates similar lawsuits to one court before one judge. Bringing lawsuits with common allegations together in one court helps make legal proceedings more efficient by avoiding duplicate discovery and conserving court resources. Plaintiffs in the MDL similarly allege that the Bair Hugger surgical warming blanket introduced contaminants into the surgical site and led to a serious, sometimes fatal, infection. Arizant Healthcare and parent company 3M are accused of failing to warn patients and the medical community about these risks.

Bellwether cases are to be chosen by Mar. 1, 2017 and the first bellwether trial is expected to begin in November 2017, a Mar. 24, 2016 Pretrial Order states.

"Bellwether cases" are the first lawsuits in an MDL to go to trial; these lawsuits represent most of the litigation. Since these are the first lawsuits going to court before a jury, their outcome can have a large impact on how the remaining litigation will be handled. For instance, if the first few bellwether trials yield large verdicts for the plaintiff, it could fuel settlement talks. The cases chosen for bellwether trials are lawsuits that represent most of the litigation.

Bair Hugger Surgical Warming Device Overview

Bair Hugger Surgical Warming Device Overview

Arizant developed and marketing the Bair Hugger in 1987. Now the company is a subsidiary of 3M Company. The single-use warming blanket device is used to maintain a patient's body temperature during surgery, as the body temperature falls due to anesthesia. The warming blanket contains holes that blow warm air over the patient's body. A portable heating unit connects to the blanket through a flexible hose; this is how heated air is pumped into the blanket.

Plaintiffs allege that the Bair Hugger surgical blanket has a design defect that circulates contaminants from the operating room floor and deposits them into the surgical site, causing serious, deep joint infections. Most plaintiffs in the Bair Hugger MDL underwent a knee or hip replacement when the device was used, and allege deep joint infections. The lawsuits allege that 3M and Arizant was aware of this risk but failed to implement design changes or warn the medical community.

In 2011, the Bone and Joint Journal in the United Kingdom published a paper suggesting that the Bair Hugger had a "significant" increased risk for deep joint infection compared to the HotDog. After conducting statistical analysis from experiments with mannequins, authors said that the Bair Hugger infection rate was 3.1 percent compared to 0.8 percent with the HotDog.

Parker Waichman notes that the Bair Hugger inventor has advocated against its use, stating the device could cause infections. The Bair Hugger inventor is Dr. Scott Augustine. Plaintiffs in the litigation expect that Dr. Augustine will testify on their behalf, according to November 2015 Star Tribune report.

Dr. Augustine, who runs a company that sells a competing surgical warming device, says the Bair Hugger presents an infection risk. He claims that contaminants can be introduced through the forced-air design, picking up pathogens from the operating room floor and introducing them into a patient's body. His competing device, the HotDog uses conductive heat instead of than forced air. "There is no question that it's a true phenomenon. It's happening. And it's easy to show," he said. "With regard to orthopedic infections, a scare is what's needed. This product should never be on another orthopedic patient."

Augustine says the Bair Hugger can disrupt the flow of sterile air in the operating room and that heat from the unit creates convection currents that can pick up contaminants from the OR floor, introducing them into the surgical site of a knee or hip replacement patient. "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," he said, according to 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, fill out our online form or call 1-800-YOURLAWYER (1-800-968-7529).

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