Minnesota jurors sided with 3M in the first trial over the company’s Bair Hugger warming devices. The two-week trial could affect the outcome of more than 4,400 Bair Hugger lawsuits.
Attorneys for Louis Gareis, the man who filed the suit that went to trial, promised an appeal. They were seeking more than $200,000 in damages for Gareis.
Gareis claimed the device cause orthopedic joint infections. He developed a severe infection following hip replacement surgery. The surgical team used a Bair Hugger during his operation.
Roughly four of every five U.S. hospitals use Bair Huggers. The devices force warm air into inflatable blankets. This helps regulate patients’ temperatures during surgery.
The air never touches the blanket. But at least four studies suggest the devices spread bacteria.
Researchers believe Bair Huggers can lift germs off operating room floors. Air currents then deposit the germs in open surgical wounds, researchers say.
Gareis’ lawyers showed jurors an animation demonstrating how air currents can move bacteria. It relied on a supercomputer simulation of air currents a Bair Hugger created. The animation mapped three million particles moving around an operating room.
Gareis had his right hip replaced twice. He claimed the surgeries left him with a Bair Hugger-related infection. His wife said it left him unable to play with their grandchildren.
“I wasn’t sure if he would pull through it. With this infection, I wasn’t sure if it would spread through the rest of his body,” Lillian Gareis told jurors.
3M denies that Bair Huggers spread infections. The company says more than 200 million surgeries have relied on Bair Huggers since 1987.
The company released a statement following the verdict. It declared the device “has been proven to be a safe and effective way to warm patients during surgery.”
Hospitals rely on Bair Huggers for hip and knee replacement surgeries. Knee and hip implants are susceptible to infection.
A single bacterium landing on an implant can grow into a biofilm across the implant. Patients may need revision surgery to remove the infection.
Tim Hopkins developed a deep joint infection following knee replacement in 2016. It was so bad, he had to have his right leg amputated.
Hopkins blames a Bair Hugger used during his surgery. He is one of the thousands who have filed a Bair Hugger lawsuit.
“The device should be pulled off the market and fixed or removed from the market permanently,” Hopkins told Drugwatch in an interview last year. “They should do the right thing and settle with the people they harmed.”
As of May 15, court records showed 4,467 lawsuits blaming Bair Huggers for infections. The cases are part of a multidistrict litigation (MDL) in Minnesota. MDLs allow courts to combine several, similar lawsuits. This saves time and resources.
The Gareis case was the first bellwether trial in the MDL. Bellwethers are test cases. They represent a sample of all the lawsuits in the MDL.
The outcome of bellwether trials can help gauge arguments on both sides. This can sometimes cause people to drop their lawsuits. But they can also help shape settlements.
The judge in the Bair Hugger MDL ordered a second bellwether ready for trial by December 2018.
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