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Bair Hugger Infection Cases Nominated for Bellwether Trials

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A group of about three dozen hip infection lawsuits and knee infection lawsuits have been nominated for potential bellwether trials in the federal litigation over the 3M Bair Hugger warming blanket, which are designed to help gauge how juries may respond to certain evidence and testimony that will be raised in more than 1,300 similar claims brought nationwide. 

The 3M Bair Hugger is a forced-air warming blanket that is commonly found in operating rooms nationwide, which is used during most hip and knee replacement procedures. However, individuals nationwide are now pursuing product liability lawsuits against 3M Company and its Arizant Healthcare subsidiary, alleging that the device increases the risk of severe and debilitating infections.

Plaintiffs claim that the forced air warming system disrupts the laminar airflow of the operating room, causing bacteria and other contaminants from the floor to enter the area around the open surgical site, leading to deep joint infections that typically require multiple surgical procedures and lengthy treatment.

Throughout the federal court system, Bair Hugger infection cases are currently centralized for pretrial proceedings before U.S. District Judge Joan Ericksen in the District of Minnesota, as part of an MDL, or multidistrict litigation.

Judge Ericksen has been presiding over the coordinated exchange of discovery and the preparation of a group of 150 randomly selected cases for a series of bellwether trials that will begin next year to help the parties evaluate the relative strengths and weaknesses of their cases.

On April 7, the parties submitted bellwether nominations (PDF), identifying 34 cases that will be eligible for the first trial dates. Each side identified 16 cases from the general pool, with one case overlapping, resulting in 31 total cases. Plaintiffs and defendants also each identified two additional cases specifically filed in Ramsey County, Minnesota, with one of the cases overlapping, for a total of three.

These bellwether nominated cases will go through limited case-specific discovery, before the list is further narrowed down to 8 representative case that will be included in a Final Bellwether Trial Pool.

Following the completion of bellwether case discovery, challenges to the admissibility of expert witness testimony and any dispositive motions, Judge Ericksen has indicated that the first trial will commence on February 8, 2018.

Although the outcome of the Bair Hugger bellwether trials will not be binding on other cases in the litigation, they will be closely watched by lawyers involved in the cases and may help facilitate eventual hip and knee infection settlements to avoid the need for hundreds of individual trials in courts nationwide.

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