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The U.S. District Judge presiding over all federal Bair Hugger warming blanket lawsuits, which involve allegations that plaintiffs suffered severe and debilitating hip and knee infections following joint replacement surgery, has scheduled an initial conference to meet for the first time with lawyers involved in the cases on February 18.
Last month, the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation established consolidated pretrial proceedings for all product liability lawsuits filed throughout the federal court system against 3M Company and its Arizant Healthcare subsidiary over hip and knee surgery infections allegedly caused by the Bair Hugger forced-air warming system.
The cases filed nationwide are centralized for coordinated discovery and handling before U.S. District Judge Joan Ericksen in the District of Minnesota, as part of an MDL, or Multi-District Litigation.
There are currently at least 82 hip infection lawsuits and knee infection lawsuits pending before Judge Erickson to reduce duplicative discovery, avoid conflicting rulings from different courts and to serve the convenience of the parties, witnesses and the judicial system. However, it is widely expected that hundreds, if not thousands, of additional cases will be added to the litigation over the coming months and years.
Each of the complaints involve similar allegations that the design of the Bair Hugger warming blanket is unreasonably dangerous and defective, allowing particles and bacteria to enter the sterile surgical field during hip replacements and knee replacements, increasing the risk of severe deep joint infections.
In a Pretrial Order (PDF) issued January 20, Judge Erickson scheduled an initial conference in the Bair Hugger warming blanket litigation, indicating that lawyers involved in the cases should appear at the U.S. Courthouse in Minneapolis on Thursday, February 18, 2016.
An additional order establishing the agenda for the initial pretrial conference will be issued in the near future, according to Judge Erickson. It is expected that the meeting will focus on the organizational structure for the Bair Hugger MDL, including procedures for filing of new cases, coordination of preliminary discovery in the cases and the steps for appointing a group of plaintiffs lawyers to serve in various leadership roles during the proceedings.
The 3M Bair Hugger surgical warmer is a popular device found in many operating rooms throughout the United States, which is commonly used during hip and knee replacement procedures to keep the body warm and improve surgical outcomes.
There are more than 50,000 Bair Hugger warming blankets in hospitals nationwide, and the devices have been used on millions of patients.
Lawsuits over the warming blanket claim that the manufacturer has known about the hip and knee surgical infection risk for years, yet failed to make design changes or provide warnings to the medical community.
As part of any coordinated pretrial proceedings before Judge Ericksen, it is expected that a small group of cases will be prepared for early trial dates. Known as “bellwether” cases, the outcomes are designed to help the parties gauge how juries may respond to certain evidence and testimony that may be repeated throughout the litigation, potentially promote settlement negotiations to resolve cases brought by individuals who have experienced problems.