Opening arguments began this week in the first bellwether trial in a consolidated action against 3M’s Bair Hugger line of products. An attorney for Louis Gareis, a South Carolina hip replacement patient, argued in federal court that the Bair Hugger blanket was defectively designed, causing an increased risk of infection in surgery patients.
3M’s Bair Hugger products are forced-air warming blankets used to stabilize a surgery patient’s body temperature before, during and after surgery. These blankets are used in more than 80 percent of U.S. hospitals today.
More than 4,000 individual plaintiffs, including Louis Gareis, have filed lawsuits alleging that the blankets were defectively designed. The central argument is that the Bair Hugger system creates excess heat that causes germs to rise from the operating room floor and increase a surgical patient’s risk of infection. Even the Bair Hugger’s inventor, Dr. Scott Augustine, has weighed in on the claims, saying that he warned 3M of the possibility of infection before they bought the device from Arizant, the Bair Hugger’s manufacturer, in 2010.
3M’s attorneys maintain that no studies have shown that the Bair Hugger blankets can cause increased infection and that other sources of infection existed in Gareis’s operating room.
The outcome of the bellwether trial will help the judge and attorneys determine how to resolve the thousands of Bair Hugger suits 3M still faces. This first trial is expected to take three weeks.
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