Bair Hugger Wrongful Death Lawsuit Filed Over Fatal Surgical Site Infection

While most Bair Hugger lawsuits filed in recent weeks involve allegations that the surgical warning blanket caused infections following knee and hip implant procedures, a wrongful death lawsuit filed this week by the widower of a Texas woman indicates that a fatal surgical site infection was caused by use of the forced-air warming system during cardiac surgery. 

The complaint (PDF) was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas on December 10, involving claims brought by Glenn Abrams, of Plano, Texas, on behalf of himself and the estate of his wife, Patricia Abrams.

The Bair Hugger is a forced air warming blanket manufactured and sold by 3M Company and it’s Arizant Healthcare subsidiary, which is designed to control body temperature during surgery by blowing hot air into a warming blanket that is placed over the patient. However, recently concerns have emerged about the design of the device, which some experts suggest may cause bacteria and particles from the operating room floor to be blown into the sterile surgical field.

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Bair Hugger Lawsuits

Bair Hugger warming blankets may be the cause of knee or hip surgery infections.

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According to allegations raised in the Bair Hugger wrongful death lawsuit filed by Glenn Abrams, his wife underwent cardiac surgery on December 14, 2013. During the surgery, a Bair Hugger forced air warming blanket was used to keep her body warm. However, he claims that the device caused Patricia Abrams to contract a severe surgical site infection, which ultimately led to her death.

“Because the Bair Hugger was used, contaminants were introduced to Plaintiff’s open surgical wound, resulting in an infection, and subsequent death on December 31, 2013,” the complaint states. “The Defendants concealed and continue to conceal their knowledge of the Bair Hugger’s unreasonably dangerous risks from Plaintiff, other consumers, and the medical community.”

The claims are similar to those made in a growing number of similar knee surgery infection lawsuits and hip surgery infection lawsuits filed in recent months, which indicate that the forced air system used by the Bair Hugger surgical warmer disrupts the laminar flow of the operating room, featuring an unreasonably dangerous design.

Plaintiffs point to studies that indicate use of forced air warming blankets cause substantial increases in the number of particles in the air near a surgical wound, and some surgeons have reported higher rates of deep joint infections following hip or knee surgery where forced air warming was used.

Bair Hugger Infection Lawsuits

Amid the growing number of cases filed over the Bair Hugger surgical warmer, a motion was filed with the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation in August, seeking to centralize all surgical site infection lawsuits pending throughout the federal court system before one judge for coordinated pretrial proceedings.

Each of the complaints raise similar allegations that design problems with the Bair Hugger surgical warming blanket used during most hip and knee replacement surgeries performed throughout the U.S. since 2009, may actually increase the risk that patients suffer severe and catestrophic deep joint infections, including MRSA (methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus), sepsis or other deep joint infections, often resulting in the need for additional surgery.

A group of plaintiffs have requested that the cases be centralized before one judge in the District of Minnesota, as part of a federal MDL, or multidistrict litigation. The process is designed to reduce duplicative discovery into common issues in the lawsuits, avoid conflicting pretrial rulings from different judges and to serve the convenience of the parties, witnesses and the courts.

3M and Arizant have opposed the establishment of a Bair Hugger infection lawsuit MDL, claiming that there’s no basis in science for the claims and that the cases are too individualized to justify centralized pretrial proceedings.

In a response in support (PDF) filed in August by one of the many plaintiffs who have brought cases, it is noted that there is a high probability that “hundreds of cases” will be filed in the future, as Bair Hugger infection lawyers continue to review and file claims on behalf of individuals nationwide.

The U.S JPML heard oral arguments on the motion at a hearing on December 3 and is currently considering whether the cases should be consolidated.


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