Plaintiffs suffering from medical complications as a result of the use of the Bair Hugger brand warming blanket during knee and hip replacement surgeries are seeking consolidation of their suits before a federal judge in St. Paul, Minnesota.

The Bair Hugger warming blanket, first introduced in 1988 by anesthesiologist Dr. Scott Augustine and now manufactured by 3M Company and Arizant Healthcare Inc., is used to maintain a surgical patient’s body temperature by using a portable blower to force warm air through a flexible hose onto a disposable blanket draped over the patient.

In at least 14 suits filed against 3M and Arizant in federal courts across the country, surgical patients have alleged that the introduction of warm air disrupts the normal air flow in the operating room, allowing bacteria to circulate and enter incisions, causing infections which require additional medical procedures, including premature replacement of their prosthetic devices and amputations.

The suits allege that 3M and Arizant have been aware of the risk posed by the device since at least 2009, but have continued to actively market it as safe. More than 50,000 units are currently in use in the United States.

In a motion filed on Aug. 21, Levin Papantonio’s Ben W. Gordon, who represents plaintiffs in numerous pending suits, asked the federal Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation to consolidate all federal suits arising out of the use of the Bair Hugger device before Judge Donovan W. Frank of the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota.

Consolidation of the suits will eliminate the potential for inconsistent rulings on the cases’ common issue of fact, allow for coordinated pretrial discovery and increase judicial efficiency, Gordon said.

The Minnesota court is the appropriate venue for the consolidated proceedings, Gordon said, because nine of the fourteen pending suits were filed there and the Minneapolis/St. Paul area is a convenient location for both plaintiffs and defendants.  Further, Gordon said, Judge Frank is experienced in handling complex litigation.

3M and Arizant have opposed the motion, contending that numerous individual issues of fact exist and arguing that proceedings in two suits, one in Texas and the other in Kansas, are at an advanced stage.

The next meeting of the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation is scheduled for Oct. 1 in New York City.

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K.J. McElrath is a former history and social studies teacher who has long maintained a keen interest in legal and social issues. In addition to writing for The Ring of Fire, he is the author of two published novels: Tamanous Cooley, a darkly comic environmental twist on Dante's Inferno, and The Missionary's Wife, a story of the conflict between human nature and fundamentalist religious dogma. When not engaged in journalistic or literary pursuits, K.J. works as an entertainer and film composer.