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Surgical Warming Blanket Lawsuit Filed Over Stomach Surgery Infection

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A woman who suffered a debilitating, antibiotic-resistant infection following stomach surgery alleges that the use of a forced air warming blanket during the procedure contributed to the problems, causing contaminants to enter the open surgical wound. 

The complaint (PDF) was filed by Heather Wheeler in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee on May 19, against 3M Company and it’s Arizant Healthcare subsidiary, which manufactured and sold the Bair Hugger warming blanket used during her stomach surgery.

The Bair Hugger is a forced air surgical blanket that is found in many operating rooms throughout the U.S., blowing warm air into a blanket that is draped over the body during surgery to control body temperature. However, the device has been linked to hundreds of reports involving severe infections that may have been caused by bacteria and contaminants from the operating room floor being blown into the sterile surgical field.

Wheeler indicates that the forced air surgical warming blanket was used during a pyloric valve surgery in June 2015, which involves widening the bottom of the stomach to allow its contents to more easily pass into the intestines. Following the stomach surgery, Wheeler indicates that she developed a Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) infection, which resulted in the need for additional surgical procedures to clean the infected area and caused her to suffer impaired mobility, making even the simple movement of walking a challenge.

“The publication of numerous peer-reviewed studies identifying and documenting the critical safety shortcomings of the Bair Hugger should have prompted the Defendants to redesign or discontinue their product,” the lawsuit states. “Instead, those criticisms only caused the Defendants to amplify their efforts to champion the Bair Hugger.”

The case joins a number of similar Bair Hugger warming blanket lawsuits filed in recent months. Most of the claims involve hip replacement infections and knee replacement infections, as the device is commonly used during orthopedic joint surgery, and the procedures are typically longer in duration, potentially increasing the risk of infection further.

The claims allege that 3M and Arizant knew or should have known about the risks of infections, yet continued to market their forced air surgical warming blanket without adequate warnings.

In December 2015, the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation established coordinated pretrial proceedings for the cases, centralizing all federal Bair Hugger surgical wound infection lawsuits before U.S. District Judge Joan Ericksen in the District of Minnesota, as part of an MDL, or Multi-District Litigation.

It is ultimately expected that several thousand complaints will be filed on behalf of individuals nationwide, as surgical warming blanket infection lawyers continue to review and file claims for individuals diagnosed with MRSA, sepsis or other deep joint infections following use of the Bair Hugger.

As part of any coordinated pretrial proceedings before Judge Ericksen, it is expected that a small group of cases will be prepared for early trial dates. Known as “bellwether” cases, the outcomes are designed to help the parties gauge how juries may respond to certain evidence and testimony that may be repeated throughout the litigation, potentially promoting settlement negotiations to resolve cases brought by individuals who have experienced problems.

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