JPML to Consider Centralization of Infection Lawsuits Over 3T Heater-Cooler Systems

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The U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) is scheduled to hear oral arguments later this month, over whether to consolidate all federal infection lawsuits linked to 3T Heater Cooler systems, and centralize the claims before one judge coordinated pretrial proceedings.

The 3T Heater-Cooler is a surgical device commonly used during hip and knee replacement procedures nationwide in recent years. However, contaminated devices have been linked to reports of severe and life-threatening nontuberculous mycobacterim (NTM) infections, which may develop months after surgery

The devices are used to regulate blood temperature during surgery. However, in late 2015, it was discovered that certain 3T Heater-Cooler systems were contaminated with bacteria, which is then released in a mist that may enter the sterile surgical site.

The bacteria may cause difficult to treat internal infections, which typically do not surface until months, or even years after exposure. As a result of the risk, hospitals nationwide have sent letters to thousands of heart surgery patients who may have been exposed to a contaminated 3T Heater-Cooler, recommending continued medical monitoring.

Over the past year, a steadily increasing number of product liability lawsuits have been filed against Sorin Group and Livanova, indicating that the manufacturers knew or should have known about the infection risks, yet withheld information from consumers and the medical community. The lawsuits also claim the manufacturers released a defective device onto the market by not preventing the contamination, which appears to have taken place inside the manufacturing facilities where the devices were made.

There are currently at least 41 lawsuits over 3T Heater-Cooler infections pending in 21 different federal court districts nationwide.

In a motion to transfer filed on November 6, the manufacturers asked that all of the complaints be transferred to the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina for coordinated discovery and pretrial management.

In a Notice of Hearing Session (PDF) issued by the JPML on December 15, the panel agreed to hear oral arguments on consolidation at a hearing on January 25, 2018, at the Wilkie D. Ferguson, Jr. U.S. Courthouse in Miami, Florida.

In complex medical device litigation, where a large number of complaints are brought by individuals who suffered the same or similar injuries from the same device, it is common for the cases to be coordinated as part of a federal multidistrict litigation (MDL) to reduce duplicative discovery into common issues raised in the cases, avoid contradictory pretrial rulings from different judges and to serve the convenience of the parties, witnesses and the judicial system.

The JPML rejected a previous attempt at consolidate the 3T Heater-Cooler lawsuits, which was filed by a group of plaintiffs in April 2017. At that time, the manufacturers maintained that there were too few cases to warrant formal consolidation. However, the most recent motion indicates that the litigation has grown substantially since that time.

3T Heater Cooler Infection Risks

The FDA first warned about the heater-cooler infection risk following coronary bypass or other heart procedures in October 2015, indicating that a large number of adverse event reports had been received in connection with the device.

In June 2016, a panel of experts were convened to evaluated the problems, indicating that at least 34 reports involving bacterial infections following heart surgery involving heater-cooler systems had been received between January 2010 and August 2015.

Late last year, the federal regulators issued a safety communication, warning about the infection problems with 3T Heater-Coolers, indicating that water tanks used by the devices can become contaminated and spread contaminants to other parts of the system, where they can be released into the air of the operating room.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also issued a Health Alert Network advisory over the potential risk of M. Chimaera infections following heart surgery, indicating that about 60% of the 250,000 heart bypass procedures performed each year in the United States involve use of affected 3T Heater-Cooler systems.

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