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As a growing number of hip infection lawsuits and knee infection lawsuits continue to move forward through the federal court system, each involving allegations that the use of a Bair Hugger warming blanket during joint replacement surgery caused contaminants to entire the sterile surgical field, the U.S. District Judge presiding over the litigation indicates that the first “bellwether” trial will begin in early February 2018.
There are currently more than 900 Bair Hugger lawsuits pending throughout the federal court system against 3M Company and its Arizant Healthcare subsidiary over problems with the design of their surgical warming blanket, which have been centralized for pretrial proceedings before U.S. District Judge Joan Ericksen in the District of Minnesota, as part of an MDL, or multidistrict litigation.
The 3M Bair Hugger is a forced-air warming system commonly found in operating rooms nationwide in recent years, which is used during most hip and knee replacements. However, the lawsuits allege that the device disrupts laminar airflow systems in the operating room, causing bacteria and contaminants from the floor to enter the area around the open surgical wound, increasing the risk of painful and debilitating deep joint infections.
Plaintiffs pursuing the product liability cases typically indicate that they required multiple surgical procedures to treat the infections, including removal of the artificial hip or knee months after joint replacement surgery, placement of antibiotic spacers and other painful procedures.
In a pretrial order (PDF) issued on January 5, Judge Ericksen updated various deadlines in the bellwether process, which involves a small group of cases being prepared for early trial dates to help gauge how juries may respond to certain evidence and testimony that is likely to be repeated throughout the litigation.
The Court previously selected 150 cases at random, from which the parties are expected to each nominate 16 to 18 cases by January 20, 2017. These nominated cases will go through limited case-specific discovery, before narrowing the list down to 8 representative case that will be included in a Final Bellwether Trial Pool.
Following the completion of bellwether case discovery, challenges to the admissibility of expert witness testimony and any dispositive motions, Judge Ericksen indicates that the first trial will commence on February 8, 2018.
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.