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Following several years of litigation, a U.S. District Judge has dismissed all federal product liability lawsuits over the 3M Bair Hugger Forced Air Warming System, after excluding testimony from plaintiffs’ expert witnesses that would have established the surgical warming blanket caused infections following hip replacements, knee replacements and other surgical procedures.
The 3M Bair Hugger has been widely used in operating rooms nationwide in recent years, designed to control body temperature during orthopedic joint replacement surgery, by forcing warm air into a blanket placed over the patient. However, the product has been the subject of more than 5,000 hip infection lawsuits and knee infection lawsuits filed nationwide.
Each of the complaints raise similar allegations, indicating that the 3M forced air warming system disrupts the laminar air flow in the operating room, causing contaminants from the floor to entire the sterile surgical site and increase the risk of devastating deep joint infections. In most cases, plaintiffs have required multiple surgical procedures to remove the infected joint, temporarily insert an antibiotic spacer and then ultimately go through another joint replacement.
Given similar questions of fact and law raised in lawsuits filed through the federal court system, the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) centralized the cases before U.S. District Judge Joan Ericksen in the District of Minnesota for coordinated discovery and pretrial proceedings in 2015, as part of an MDL, or multidistrict litigation.
On July 31, Judge Ericksen issued an order (PDF) granting a motion filed by 3M to exclude the testimony of plaintiff’s expert witnesses, including Drs. William Jarvis, Jonathan Samet, Michael Stonnington, and Said Elghobashi; all of whom were set to testify about the link between use of Bair Hugger warming blankets and surgical infections.
Without the expert testimony to support their claims, Judge Ericksen has determined that plaintiffs are unable to establish causation in their claims, thus granted the manufacturer’s motion for summary judgment, dismissing the entire litigation.
The expert witnesses had previously been allowed to testify in the first federal “bellwether” trial held before Judge Ericksen in 2018. However, that case ended in a defense verdict, and 3M convinced the Court to revisit the issue of the admissibility of the plaintiffs’ expert witness testimonies.
While plaintiffs are likely to file an appeal of the ruling, 3M Company has issued a press release lauding the legal victory and stating that it continues to maintain the Bair Hugger warming blanket is safe.