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3T Heater-Cooler Infection Lawsuits To Proceed As Individual Claims: JPML

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Although a number of individuals and families are continuing to file lawsuits over heart surgery infections allegedly caused by exposure to contaminated 3T Heater-Cooler Systems commonly found in operating rooms nationwide, a panel of federal judges has denied a request to consolidate the claims for coordinated pretrial proceedings.

There are currently about 15 cases pending in five separate U.S. District Courts involving Mycobacterium chimaera, Mycobacterium abscessus or other non-tuberculosis mycobacteria (NTM) infections allegedly caused by Sorin 3T Hearter-Coolers, which are used during open heart surgery and other cardiac procedures to regulate blood temperature.

The litigation emerged after it was discovered that certain devices manufactured prior to September 2014 may be contaminated with a slow growing bacteria, releasing a dangerous vapor into the air of the operating room. As a result, heart surgery patients may develop severe and potentially life-threatening infections that surface months or even years after heart bypass surgery, heart valve replacement or other procedure where the contaminated devices were used.

Late last month, the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) considered oral arguments on a motion filed to centralize the 3T Heater-Cooler infection lawsuits as part of a federal MDL, or multidistrict litigation. A group of plaintiffs asked that the cases be transferred to one judge for coordinated discovery and pretrial proceedings given the similar questions of fact and law raised in the litigation. However, the manufacturers of the device opposed to centralization effort.

In an order denying transfer (PDF), the U.S. JPML indicated that it does not believe the limited number of cases currently filed warrant the formal consolidation at this time.

“On the basis of the papers filed and hearing session held, we conclude that centralization is not necessary for the convenience of the parties and witnesses or to further the just and efficient conduct of the litigation,” the order states. “Opponents of centralization argue that unique factual and legal issues will predominate in this litigation, and that informal coordination is sufficient to minimize any overlap in pretrial proceedings. We are persuaded that any overlapping pretrial proceedings have been and can continue to be handled through informal coordination.”

The ruling means that, for the time being, the 3T Heater-Cooler infection cases will continue to proceed as individual claims.

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