Kansas Lawsuit Alleges 3M's Bair Hugger Caused Infection

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Orthopedic surgery patient alleges that Bair Hugger, a forced-air warmer that keeps patients warm during surgery, deposited bacteria in his surgical wound, ultimately requiring amputation. Dr. Scott Augustine, inventor of Bair Hugger warming and chair of Augustine Temperature Management, comments on the risks of the device.

Already dealing with federal-court litigation in Texas, 3M’s Bair Hugger warming now faces claims filed in Kansas Federal District Court (Case 2:14-cv-02044). The complaint alleges that the surgical device caused an infection during joint-replacement surgery. The plaintiff, Timothy Johnson, allegedly became infected with Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), leading to amputation of his leg. According to the complaint, he implantation of Johnson’s artificial knee occurred at The University of Kansas Hospital in September 2010, and Bair Hugger warming was used during the surgery.

The Texas case, lodged in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas, Houston Division, is Walton v. 3M, Civil Action No. H-13-1164.

Mike Sexton, Kansas City personal injury attorney, represents Johnson. Sexton has repeatedly been listed by The Best Lawyers in America and named to Superlawyers of Kansas and Missouri. David Hodges of Kennedy Hodges, the Houston firm that filed the initial case, is also listed as counsel for Johnson.

The Bair Hugger system blows heated air on a patient’s exposed skin. According to the complaint, the hot air accumulates under the surgical drape and escapes below the level of the surgical table. This escaped air, the complaint alleges, creates warm, rising, airflow currents that deposit bacteria from the floor of the surgical room into the surgical site.

3M, the complaint alleges, knew about the risks that Bair Hugger poses to patients, but has made no attempt to redesign the product or to warn healthcare providers of the risks. The complaint states that 3M has “taken every step to conceal and discredit any scientific studies which might undermine their sales.”

The Kansas City litigation referenced above occurred after The Bone and Joint Journal published research conducted by UK orthopedic surgeons. Concerned by convection currents produced by forced-air warming devices, the surgeons compared Bair Hugger warming with an air-free warming system. 2,000 times more contaminant particles were found in the air over the wound with Bair Hugger warming, an increase of 217,300%. This study, published in March 2013, can be seen at http://www.bjj.boneandjoint.org.uk/content/95-B/3/407.short?rss=1&cited-by=yes&legid=jbjsbr;95-B/3/407&related-urls=yes&legid=jbjsbr;95-B/3/407

Dr. Scott Augustine, inventor of Bair Hugger warming, defends some uses of the device, claiming that it is “probably safe in soft-tissue surgeries. The risk to patients only occurs with implanted devices,” he says, “ like artificial joints. In those surgeries, a single bacteria landing on the device can secrete a biofilm, making it impervious to antibiotics and antibodies. The infection can erupt weeks later. In those cases, the pathogen usually arrives through the air.

“In soft tissue surgeries,” Dr. Augustine concluded, “the risk of infection from FAW is much less.”

More than 50,000 Bair Hugger warming units are currently in use across the country, and the technology is used in most joint replacement surgeries. Several plaintiffs’ firms have begun advertising for patients potentially injured by Bair Hugger.

About Augustine Temperature Management

Dr. Scott Augustine invented the patient warming field, when he pioneered forced-air warming 25 years ago. Since then, hundreds of millions of patients have received the benefits of normothermia during surgery. Due to concerns with patient safety in ultra-clean surgeries, Dr. Augustine and his team of engineers sought to create an alternative warming solution to meet the needs of the healthcare community. Air-free warming is produced by Augustine Temperature Management.

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Dan Grewe
Augustine Temperature Management
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