Defense Verdict Returned in Intuitive Surgical Lawsuit Over Da Vinci Robot

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By: Irvin Jackson | Published: May 24th, 2013

Intuitive Surgical has convinced a Washington state jury that it should not be held liable for the death of a man who experienced complications after a botched robotic surgery procedure, successfully obtaining a defense verdict in the first lawsuit over their da Vinci Surgical System to reach a jury.

Following more than four weeks of trial, jurors voted 10-2 on Thursday that Intuitive Surgical did not have to pay damages to the family of Fred Taylor, who died after being operated on by his urologist, Scott Bildsten, in 2008.

Taylor’s family argued during the da Vinci wrongful death trial that the manufacturer of the surgical robot should be held liable for failing to adequate train surgeons on the proper use of the machine. Dr. Bildsten testified during the trial that he was only provided one day of training and was supervised by Intuitive Surgical representatives through just two surgeries involving the da Vinci robot before he was told that he was qualified to perform procedures independently.

Taylor died following a robotic prostatectomy, where he suffered a multitude of complications, including kidney damage, lung damage, incontinence, sepsis and a stroke. The procedure was the first independent robotic surgery performed by Dr. Bildsten involving the da Vinci robot. Before the start of the trial, Taylor’s family reached a confidential settlement with Dr. Bildsten.

During the trial, Intuitive Surgical argued that Taylor was morbidly obese and should not have been operated on by Bildsten. They told the jury that Bildsten ignored training instructions directing him to only choose simple cases and patients with a low body-mass index for his first several operations.

Intuitive Surgical Faces Mounting da Vinci Robot Lawsuits

The da Vinci Surgical System is a complex surgery robot that is controlled by a surgeon looking at a virtual reality representation of the patient’s internal organs and manipulating its four metal arms with hand and foot controls. While the system is promoted as a less invasive procedure, leading to shorter recovery times, the lawsuit alleged that the da Vinci robot has a high “learning curve” that is required to obtain basic competency in robotic surgery.

The Taylor case was the first of nearly 30 Intuitive Surgical lawsuits over the da Vinci robot to reach a jury. Although the facts of each case vary greatly, similar allegations have been raised throughout the litigation, indicating that Intuitive Surgical aggressively marketed and sold the da Vinci robot without providing adequate training or instructions for surgeons.

Many of lawsuits include allegations that the machine features design defects that could allow the electrical current used to cut and cauterize tissue to arc outside of the surgical field, resulting in internal burns, tears and other complications following da Vinci robotic surgery.

Earlier this month, Intuitive Surgical warned about the risk of da Vinci robot burns and other injuries that may be caused by problems with the cauterizing scissors, known as Hot Shears. According to an urgent letter sent to hospitals and doctors, the manufacturer indicated that the da Vinci scissors could have micro-cracks that could cause patients to suffer electrical burns to internal organs.

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