Bair Hugger Warming Blanket Lawsuits - Risks, Infections
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Bair Hugger Warming Blanket Lawsuits

Risks posed by the Bair Hugger warming blanket are at the center of increasing litigation against 3M Co. Nearly 60 orthopedic patients claim that the forced air warming device, frequently used during surgery to prevent anesthesia-induced hypothermia, caused incapacitating deep-joint infections.

Dr. Scott D. Augustine, a Minnesota anesthesiologist who invented Bair Hugger warming units and equipment used in thousands of U.S. hospitals, is also speaking out against the devices. Augustine cites research that shows the device’s convection currents stir up bacteria and contaminants from the hospital floor, which can then be embedded into the surface of an artificial hip or knee implant at the time of surgery.

“With regard to orthopedic infections, a scare is what’s needed. This product should never be used on another orthopedic patient,” Augustine recently told the Star Tribune.

The entrepreneur and doctor will likely testify in upcoming trials that Bair Hugger temperature management systems pose serious infection risk, particularly for patients undergoing joint replacement surgery.

Leveraging decades of litigation experience involving recalled products and defective medical devices, The Sanders Firm offers effective legal advocacy for those who believe Bair Hugger warming equipment is responsible for their injuries.

About Bair Hugger warming therapy

More than 20 years ago, Dr. Augustine became one of the first doctors to explore the benefits of keeping patients warm during surgery. Studies indicated that normalized temperatures during operations could help speed up recovery and result in less bleeding. Based on this notion, Augustine created Bair Hugger warming equipment, which included forced air warming units, blankets and accessories. The invention, sold through Augustine Biomedical and Design, helped make the Twin Cities anesthesiologist a fortune in 1987 when it was cleared by the FDA.

Today, Bair Hugger devices have become a mainstay in hospitals throughout the country and around the world, and are used on more than 165 million patients. 

The unit works by filtering and warming air which is then forced through a disposable blanket that is draped over the surgical patient. The goal is to provide a gentle, consistent flow of heated air to the patient’s upper body, torso or lower body, helping regulate temperature and prevent hypothermia. And while the devices are specifically designed to avoid pressure points and thermal injury, numerous reports of 2nd degree burns have been reported to the FDA’s MAUDE Adverse Event database.

The warming blankets now come in 25 different styles designed for pediatric, adult and geriatric use in various types of surgeries and have become a huge income generator. In 2010, 3M acquired Arizant, which had purchased Augustine’s company and the right to sell Bair Hugger products. The Minnesota-based manufacturing company — along with Arizant — is named defendant in dozens of lawsuits alleging Bair Hugger-related joint infections.

Forced air spreads bacteria and contaminants

Plaintiffs echo the same criticisms asserted by Dr. Augustine, who says the Bair Hugger warming equipment is a threat to patients receiving prosthetic joints and artificial heart valves. According to Augustine, the forced air can draw “waste heat” from below the operating table, which then spreads bacteria that can lead to hospital-acquired infections, and those that are resistant to antibiotic therapy.

Concerns about the spread of airborne contaminants were explored in a 2011 study, which was published in the UK’s Bone and Joint Journal. Researchers tested Bair Hugger technology on mannequins and compared it with patient records, determining that the forced air warming blankets created an increased risk for deep-joint infection compared with patients who were warmed with another device developed by Augustine known as the HotDog. The primary difference between the two is that the HotDog employs conductive heat (much like an electric blanket) rather than forced air, and therefore does not disrupt convection currents.

Attorneys for 3M claim that Augustine’s disparaging comments are nothing more than a ploy to scare people and promote his own, competitor product. And despite the possibility of a class action Bair Hugger lawsuit, the manufacturing giant continues to enjoy robust sales from a number of patient warming products, including Bair Hugger Therapy. Legal counsel for 3M contends there is no medical evidence to prove that Bair Hugger blankets can spread bacteria and create joint infections, but plaintiffs’ counsel believes a definitive correlation can be established.

Risk of infection in joint surgery patients

Back in 2013, Tommy Walton — an elderly hip replacement patient — was one of the first people to file a Bair Huggar lawsuit against Arizant and 3M. The Texas man claimed that contaminated airflow from the unit during his 2011 surgery caused a debilitating infection. Walton ultimately needed 15 revision surgeries to address his complications and had to have his hip implant removed. The suit is seeking more than $1 million in monetary damages to account for Walton’s medical bills, pain, suffering and permanent disability.

Deep joint infections can be life-threatening if swift measures aren’t taken to control the damage.

Patients who suffer infection in an artificial knee or hip joint may experience:

  • High fever
  • Severe pain
  • Inflammation
  • Reduced mobility
  • Fatigue
  • Death – if the infection is left untreated

Another orthopedic patient who is now taking legal action against 3M and Arizant argues that the infection he got from the Bair Hugger device triggered a cascade of revision operations and an amputation.

Allegations raised in Bair Hugger lawsuits

Those who have filed product liability lawsuits contend that Arizant and 3M were aware of infection risks, especially in heart valve and joint surgery patients, but failed to caution patients and healthcare providers. The claims also allege that the defendants provided misleading information about the safety of their products and attempted to conceal scientific data which supported the dangers of forced air units during orthopedic operations.

At The Sanders Firm, our highly credentialed attorneys have a long record of substantial verdicts and settlements reached with Big Pharma and manufacturers of dangerous medical devices. If you or someone you love developed an MSRA infection after having joint replacement surgery, we invite you to take advantage of a free consultation with our firm. We can help determine if the Bair Hugger air warming system was utilized during your surgery and if you have a valid claim for damages. Call 1-800-FAIR-PLAY to learn more.


  1. Star Tribune, Lawsuits turn up heat on 3M's Bair Hugger warming blankets http://www.startribune.com/lawsuits-turn-up-heat-on-3m-s-bair-hugger-warming-blankets/348191741/

  2. Solutions 3M, Patient Warming Blankets M™ Bair Hugger™ Therapy http://solutions.3m.com/wps/portal/3M/en_US/IPD-NA/3M-Infection-Prevention/catalog/

  3. Twin Cities,Texas patient suing 3M for Bair Hugger injury http://www.twincities.com/ci_22894244/texas-patient-suing-3m-bair-hugger-injury

  4. NY Times, Doctor Says a Device He Invented Poses Risks http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/25/business/25invent.html