Da Vinci Robot Trials Forge Ahead Despite Defense Verdict on Issue of Physician Training
Da Vinci robot trials alleging defects in the robotic machinery manufactured by Intuitive Surgical, Inc. remain very much alive despite last week’s defense verdict in a trial alleging inadequate training of a Washington State surgeon whose da Vinci surgery allegedly contributed to the death of a morbidly obese patient.
As reported last week, Intuitive Surgical, the maker of the da Vinci surgical robot was exonerated by a Washington State jury which found that the medical device manufacturer was not liable in the death of a patient who had undergone prostate surgery with the assistance of the robot.* The plaintiff’s attorneys had argued that Intuitive failed to adequately train surgeons in their deployment of the robotic surgical system at least in part because of a drive to sell as many units if the system as quickly as possible in this nascent market.* Because it was found not to have been negligent in the patient’s death, the company owes his family no compensation, despite the family’s request for $8.45 million and its insistence that intuitive surgical failed to adequately train the surgeon to use the surgical robot.*
The company argued that the surgeon was indeed adequately trained. Specifically, Intuitive Surgical argued that the victim’s surgeon ignored instructions to avoid using the robot in procedures on individuals who are morbidly obese.* As the victim weighed 280 pounds and was 5’ 11” tall, his body mass index (BMI) of 39 was quite high.* Furthermore, despite the surgeon’s training on the device, he had undertaken this complicated case as his first robotically-assisted surgery without the help or supervision from other surgeons with more experience using the surgical robot.*
Upon news of the verdict, Intuitive Surgical’s stock rose more than 5%.* Despite Intuitive Surgical’s satisfaction with the verdict, the plaintiff’s attorneys remain undeterred, insisting that there are “thousands of good cases [still] out there.”*
In contrast to its denial of inadequate surgeon training, Intuitive has openly acknowledged a burn risk raised by one specific component of the da Vinci system, the Hot Shears Monopolar Curved Scissors which, in an urgent medical device notification to doctors and hospitals, stated that the scissors “may create a pathway for electrical surgery energy to leak to tissue during use.”** These electrical leaks may result in serious internal injuries to patients of a nature not at issue in the Washington State case.
Attorney William Audet, whose San Francisco-based law firm, Audet and Partners, LLP represents several plaintiffs alleging injuries resulting from the da Vinci surgical system, elucidates the clear differences between the Washington State case, and the cases that he continues to move forward to trial. “The Washington case focused not so much on the robotic surgical instruments, but rather on the fact that the operating surgeon ignored specific warnings from the manufacturer not to use the da Vinci system on morbidly obese patients. In contrast, we are representing plaintiffs who have suffered serious internal injuries allegedly as a result of surgical burns occurring during da Vinci procedures – precisely the risks that Intuitive acknowledged and called to the attention of its customers in its recent urgent notification warning.”
If you or someone you know has suffered an injury that may be related to the da Vinci surgical robot, please contact Audet & Partners, LLP by calling us toll free at 800.965.1461. Alternatively, please complete and submit our confidential inquiry form on the right side of this page. Please act now, since the law may limit your right to recovery if you delay.
* Intuitive Wins Trial, Defeats Negligent Training Claims (Bloomberg, May 23, 2013), http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-05-23/intuitive-wins-trial-defeats-negligent-training-claims.html
** May 8th Urgent Medical Device Notification by Intuitive Surgical, http://fm.cnbc.com/applications/cnbc.com/resources/editorialfiles/2013/05/10/UrgentDaVinci.pdf