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Bair Hugger Warming Blanket Lawsuit Centralization Sought with JPML

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As a growing number of hip infection lawsuits and knee infection lawsuits continue to be filed against 3M Corporation over their Bair Hugger forced air warming blanket, a motion has been filed with the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) seeking to centralize the litigation before one judge for coordinated pretrial proceedings.

The Bair Hugger warming blanket has been commonly used during most orthopedic joint replacement procedures in recent years, providing forced air warming to help control body temperature during surgery. This is designed to reduce the risk of bleeding and improve outcomes. However, many patients indicate that they developed severe joint infections due to the design of the device.

According to allegations raised in the Bair Hugger warming blanket lawsuits, the forced air system disrupts the laminar flow of the operating room, allowing bacteria and other contaminants from the floor to enter the surgical site.

In a motion to transfer (PDF) filed on August 21, plaintiff William Lichlyter indicates that given the similarities between the cases, complaints filed in U.S. District courts throughout the country should be transferred to the District of Minnesota to reduce duplicative discovery, avoid conflicting pretrial rulings and to serve the convenience of the parties, witnesses and the courts.

There are currently at least 14 lawsuits over Bair Hugger infections pending in six different federal district courts nationwide. However, as product liability lawyers continue to review and file claims for individuals who have suffered an infection following hip or knee surgery, it is expected that the number of lawsuits will increase significantly in the coming months and years.

More than 50,000 Bair Hugger units are in hospitals nationwide, and the warming blankets have been used on millions of patients. The lawsuits claim that the manufacturer has known about the infection risk for years, yet failed to make design changes or provide warnings to the medical community.

“There are currently tens of thousands of patients in hospitals all across the United States who undergo surgery each month which involves intraoperative use of the Bair Hugger forced air warming blankets,” the motion states. “Many of these patients now find themselves at significantly increased risk of infection and severe medical complication as a result of the use of the Bair Hugger.”

The lawsuits filed so far have named 3M Company and their Arizant Healthcare subsidiary as defendants. Arizant was the original creator of the Bair Hugger, before the company was acquired by 3M.

Lichlyter first filed his lawsuit on July 25, indicating that he suffered an infection following left hip surgery in August 2012. He indicated that the infection led to a number of surgical procedures, the removal of a majority of his thigh muscle and other permanent injuries.

The U.S. JPML is not likely to schedule oral arguments on the motion until a hearing session set for December 3, in New Orleans.

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