December 8, 2016 — A federal judge overseeing nearly 900 lawsuits involving 3M’s Bair Hugger Forced-Air Warming Blanket has set a deadline for choosing the first “bellwether” trial.
On November 16, U.S. District Judge Joan N. Ericksen issued a pre-trial order (PDF) setting a schedule for lawyers to pick the case.
The court will randomly select 150 cases. Lawyers from both sides will choose 16 cases each, for a total of 32 cases. Of those cases, both sides must agree on a pool of 8 candidates for the trial. They must pick one case to go to trial by by March 8, 2017.
The outcome of the first “bellwether” trial is not binding on other lawsuits in the MDL. If a jury awards compensation to the plaintiff, the outcome can help lawyers negotiate the value of a settlement for lawsuits involving similar injuries. If an agreement is not reached, each individual lawsuit will be sent back to the state court where it was originally filed.
The Bair Hugger is a special blanket that regulates the body temperature of people who are under anesthesia during surgery. 3M and its Arizant Healthcare subsidiary maintain that the Bair Hugger is safe and does not contribute to hospital infections.
In 2010, the inventor of the device went public in the New York Times to warn that it can spread bacteria associated with hospital-acquired infections. He said hospitals should use another device he invented that works more like an electric blanket.
The lawsuits have been centralized in the U.S. District Court for Minnesota since December 2015. Most cases involve people who developed infections after a hip replacement or knee replacement. The Bair Hugger is also used in some open-heart surgeries to replace artificial valves.