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3M Holds Onto Win in Bair Hugger Warming Blanket Test Trial

Aug. 17, 2021, 8:26 PM

3M Co. held onto a trial win Tuesday in a lawsuit by a man who alleged he developed an infection from its Bair Hugger warming system used during hip replacement surgery, as the Eighth Circuit rejected evidentiary challenges in light of the jury’s finding that the device didn’t cause the harm.

Louis and Lillian Gareis raised various claims against 3M and its unit Arizant Healthcare Inc. Only their strict-liability design-defect claim went to trial.

A jury found that the couple failed to prove that the Bair Hugger was unreasonably dangerous or that a reasonable safer alternative design existed. They also didn’t link the product to Louis Gareis’s infection.

The system consists of a portable heater/blower connected by a flexible hose to a blanket. It warms patients by blowing heated air through the blanket onto their exposed skin.

The couple asserted certain evidence relevant to their strict liability claim was wrongly barred. But they fail to show prejudice, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit said. None of the excluded evidence was relevant to the finding on causation, the court noted in an opinion by Judge Raymond W. Gruender.

Similarly, the jury’s causation finding doomed the plaintiffs’ argument that the district court erred by allowing testimony from 3M’s expert, Dr. John Abraham, who rebutted their theory about operating room airflow.

The plaintiffs maintain that the device can cause infection because heat from the Bair Hugger creates currents that carry ambient bacteria to the surgical site.

The jury heard testimony about the various ways bacteria could have infected Gareis’ implant site besides use of the Bair Hugger during his surgery, the court said. The plaintiffs “do not even mention all this other evidence, let alone explain why, notwithstanding this evidence, Dr. Abraham’s testimony was prejudicial,” it said.

The appeals court also rejected the plaintiffs’ challenge to a trial court ruling that excluded their failure-to-warn claims from trial, saying the jury’s causation finding indicates it still would have found for the defendants.

The couple’s case was part of federal multidistrict litigation involving the Bair Hugger, and it was the only one tried.

After the trial, the defendants filed renewed dismissal motions. The U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota, which oversees the MDL, threw out thousands of cases in 2019.

On Monday, the Eighth Circuit reinstated the cases, saying the plaintiffs’ experts were wrongly excluded.

Judges Jane Kelly and L. Steven Grasz joined the opinion.

Ciresi Conlin LLP, Levin Papantonio Rafferty, and others represented the plaintiffs. Blackwell Burke PA, Faegre Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP, and others represented the defendants.

The case is Gareis v. 3M Co., 8th Cir., No. 18-03553, 8/17/21.

To contact the reporter on this story: Julie Steinberg in Washington at jsteinberg@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rob Tricchinelli at rtricchinelli@bloomberglaw.com; Peggy Aulino at maulino@bloomberglaw.com

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