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Bair Hugger Deep Joint Infection Lawsuits Allowed to Proceed to Trial

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The U.S. District Judge presiding over all hip infection lawsuits and knee infection lawsuits linked to the use of Bair Hugger surgical warming blankets recently rejected attempts to disqualify expert witness testimony, clearing the way for bellwether trials to begin next year. 

There are currently more than 4,100 3M Bair Hugger deep joint infection lawsuits pending in the federal court system, which are 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.

Each of the complaints raise similar allegations that 3M Company and its Arizant Healthcare subsidiary sold a dangerous and defectively designed warming blanket, which has been widely used by hospitals nationwide during hip and knee replacement procedures.

Plaintiffs claim that the Bair Hugger 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. Severe and debilitating deep joint infections have been linked to use of the Bair Hugger blanket, typically resulting in the need for multiple surgical procedures and lengthy infection treatment.

As part of the coordinated pretrial proceedings in the MDL, Judge Ericksen established a “bellwether” program, where a small group of cases have been prepared for a series of early trial dates, which are designed to help the parties gauge how juries may respond to certain evidence and testimony that will be repeated throughout many of the cases currently pending in the MDL. According to a schedule issued in October, the first Bair Hugger cases will be “trial ready” by April 30, 2018.

In an order (PDF) issued last week, Judge Ericksen rejected requests from both sides that sought to exclude expert testimony on whether the Bair Hugger can cause deep joint infections, allowing all of the proposed experts to testify.

Judge Ericksen also rejected a motion by defendants for summary judgment, which was based on defendants’ claims that plaintiffs would have insufficient and reliable expert witness testimony to establish that the Bair Hugger warming blankets caused patient infections.

“Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment depends on the Court granting their Motions to Exclude,” Judge Ericksen wrote. “Because the Court has not excluded any Plaintiffs’ experts, Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment must be and thus is denied.”

Out of a group of 150 randomly selected bellwether cases early in the litigation, two knee replacement infection claims have been chosen for the first two trial dates, including lawsuits filed by Louis Gareis, of South Carolina, and Kurtis Skarr and his wife, Debbie, of Idaho. Both complaints indicate that the plaintiffs suffered infections caused by the use of the Bair Hugger forced air warming systems used during total knee replacement surgery.

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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