da Vinci Surgery Product Liability Lawsuits to Proceed Without MDL

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By: Austin Kirk | Published: August 6th, 2012

A panel of federal judges has determined that it is not necessary to consolidate all federal da Vinci robotic surgery lawsuits, which allege that design defects caused plaintiffs to suffer internal injuries during surgical procedures, indicating that centralizing the product liability litigation before one judge would not serve a benefit at this time. 

In an order (PDF) issued on August 3, the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) denied a motion filed by plaintiffs to form an MDL, or multidistrict litigation, for all lawsuits filed in U.S. District Courts throughout the country over complications following da Vinci surgery.

Plaintiffs Patricia and Drennan Mayfield filed the motion to form a da Vinci surgery MDL in May 2012, arguing that consolidating their case with other similar complaints filed throughout the federal court system would prevent duplicative discovery, avoid conflicting pretrial rulings and serve the convenience of the witnesses, the parties and the courts.

In a response filed by the maker of the da Vinci robot, Intuitive Surgical, Inc., the defendant in the cases opposed consolidation, arguing that there were only a small number of cases, and that efficiencies and conveniences can be achieved through informal coordination between courts and counsel without the necessity of transferring the actions to one judge.

There are currently at least five da Vinci surgery product liability lawsuits filed in five different U.S. District Courts, but the U.S. JPML determined that centralization would not “serve the convenience of the parties and witnesses or further the just and efficient conduct of this litigation.” Therefore, the panel suggested that voluntary coordination among the parties and courts is preferable to centralization at this time.

Product Liability Lawsuits Allege Design Defects With da Vinci Robotic System

The da Vinci Robotic Surgery System is a complex robot used to minimize invasive surgical procedures. It features four remote controlled arms and a camera, allowing surgeons to operate through a small incision with a joystick-like control.  The machine has been increasingly used in recent years amid aggressive marketing by Intuitive Surgical, Inc., which claims using the robot results in smaller scars and faster recovery times.

However, according to allegations raised in the complaints, Intuitive Surgical sold the robotic surgery system without ensuring proper training and instructions for surgeons, and without providing adequate warnings for consumers about the risk of problems that may develop during the robotic surgery with the da Vinci system.

Plaintiffs also allege that the robot features several design defects, which may cause individuals to suffer cuts, tears and burns to nearby arteries or internal organs, which often go undetected until after surgery. Lawsuits indicate that safer alternative designs were available that do not use monopolar energy to cut, burn and cauterize tissue. In addition, plaintiffs claim that the electrical current may pass outside the surgical field as a result of problems with insulation on the arms, which may become worn or torn in places.

Although the currently pending lawsuits each allege similar product liability claims involving defects in the da Vinci Robotic Surgical System, the U.S. JPML noted in the order that the cases are “relatively straightforward personal injury or wrongful death actions, however, and the litigation may focus to a large extent on individual questions of fact concerning the circumstances of each patient’s alleged injuries.”

The decision to deny consolidation of the da Vinci litigation comes after oral arguments were heard by the panel on July 26, at a hearing held in Cleveland, Ohio.

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