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First 3M Bair Hugger Bellwether Trial Ends in Defense Verdict

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A federal jury in Minneapolis has returned a defense verdict in a product liability lawsuit over an infection allegedly caused by the Bair Hugger forced air warming blanket, which was the first of several thousand cases pending nationwide to go to trial.

The 3M Bair Hugger has been widely used in operating rooms nationwide in recent years, helping control body temperature during hip and knee replacement surgery by forcing warm air into a blanket placed over the patient. However, the product has been the subject of more than 4,400 hip infection lawsuits and knee infection lawsuits filed nationwide, which raise similar allegations that the forced air warming system disrupts the laminar air flow in the operating room, causing contaminants from the floor to entire the sterile surgical site.

Given similar questions of fact and law raised in complaints filed nationwide, the federal litigation has been centralized before U.S. District Judge Joan Ericksen in the District of Minnesota for coordinated discovery and pretrial proceedings, as part of an MDL, or multidistrict litigation.

The first scheduled “bellwether” involved a claim brought by Louis Gareis, of South Carolina, who developed a deep joint infection in November 2010, after a right total knee replacement surgery where the 3M Bair Hugger warming blanket was used.

According to allegations presented at trial, the design of the Bair Hugger was to blame for the infection, which led to Gareis undergoing a number of antibiotic treatments, including intravenous injections and implantation of antibiotic spacers, and ultimately required the removal of his knee implant through revision surgery.

Following about two weeks of trial, the jury returned a defense verdict on May 30, finding that the plaintiff failed to prove that the Bair Hugger was the likely cause of the surgical infection. The jury reached its decision after about an hour and a half of deliberations.

While the outcome of this trial is not binding on other plaintiffs, it is being closely watched as a “bellwether”, which may help the parties gauge how juries will respond to certain evidence and testimony that is likely to be repeated throughout the litigation.

A second 3M Bair Hugger trial is expected to begin soon, involving claims by Kurtis Skarr and his wife, Debbie, of Idaho.

Following the early bellwether trials, if the parties fail to reach a settlement or another resolution for the litigation, thousands of individual cases may be remanded back to U.S. District Courts nationwide for individual trial dates.

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