A recent update by the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) indicates that as of October 17, 2016, there were 809 pending Bair Hugger infection cases, an increase of 116 filings since September 15th.
The plaintiffs in these cases allege that they developed serious infections following joint replacement surgery in which the Bair Hugger warming blanket was used.
The Bair Hugger multidistrict litigation in Minnesota was established by the JPML in December 2015, in order to allow all claims filed in federal court to undergo coordinated discovery and other pretrial proceedings.
The Bair Hugger surgical warming system consists of a portable heater that is connected to an inflatable blanket. Warm air is gently forced into the Bair Hugger blanket is placed over the patient. The system is used by thousands of hospitals in the U.S. to help patients maintain optimal body temperature while under anesthesia. According to Law360, the Bair Hugger increases patient comfort, reduces bleeding, and reduces the risk of infection and post-operative heart attack.
Plaintiffs in the Bair Hugger lawsuits allege that because of a design defect, heat from the warming unit can build up under the operating table, creating air currents that blow contaminants from the floor onto open incisions, particularly during joint-replacement surgeries. With more than 50,000 Bair Hugger units in use across the United States, thousands of patients are at risk for exposure to contaminants during surgery, according to legal documents in one patient’s lawsuit.
After surgery where the Bair Hugger system was used, patients have developed deep joint infections that can be painful and very difficult to treat. A Baltimore man, for instance, developed Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) after 2013 knee replacement surgery during which the Bair Hugger was used. The man underwent two additional surgeries to treat the infection and ultimately, the knee implant was removed and the infected area was cleaned out. These surgeries occurred less than eight months after his original knee replacement surgery, Top Class Actions reports.
If a joint infection cannot be controlled, the infection can lead to sepsis, a life-threatening complication. The Mayo Clinic explains that sepsis can progress to septic shock. In septic shock, organs can fail and the patient’s blood pressure drops dramatically, which may result in death.
The Bair Hugger warming system was brought to market in 1987 by Arizant Healthcare, Inc., now a subsidiary of the 3M Company. Legal documents allege that 3M and Arizant have known of the Bair Hugger infection problem for years but failed to make design corrections or warn the medical community. Dr. Scott Augustine, the Bair Hugger’s inventor, believes the Bair Hugger, though an improvement over earlier surgical warming devices, creates a danger of infection when used on a patient receiving a joint implant or a heart valve. In a 2010 interview with the New York Times, Dr. Augustine said he thinks 3M should recall the device.
In a pretrial order, the court approved a Plaintiff Fact Sheet for use by current plaintiffs to present the details of their cases. The fact sheet is also intended for people who file future Bair Hugger lawsuits or for people whose cases are transferred to the Minnesota court, according to a news release.