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Motion Filed to Consolidate Lawsuits Over da Vinci Robotic Surgery

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A motion has been filed with the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) to consolidate and centralize all federal product liability lawsuits over the da Vinci Surgical System, which is machine used during a variety of robotic surgery procedures.

There are currently at least four da Vinci robotic surgery lawsuits filed in U.S. District Courts throughout the country. The claims involve common allegations that patients experienced internal injuries due to design defects, improper training and a failure to warn about the risk of complications following da Vinci surgery.

The da Vinci machine is a complex robot manufactured by Intuitive Surgical, which features four remote controlled arms and a camera, allowing surgeons to operate through a small incision with a joystick-like control.

Since it was introduced in 2000, nearly 1 million people have been operated on using robotic systems, including about 350,000 last year. It has been reported that the use of robotics during minimally invasive gynecological, heart, prostate and other types of procedures has grown over 400 percent in the last four years.

While the manufacturer promoted da Vinci robotic surgery as a breakthrough in medical science, allowing for less invasive surgery and shorter recovery times, lawsuits allege that it carries a substantial risk of internal burns, tears and other complications, which have resulted in death and other devastating injuries.

In a motion (PDF) filed last week, plaintiffs Patricia and Drennan Mayfield requested that their case and all other similar lawsuits filed in the federal court system be consolidated for pretrial proceedings and discovery as part of an MDL, or multidistrict litigation, as they all involve common legal theories and facts.

Mayfield’s da Vinci surgery lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi on May 7, alleging that Patricia Mayfield suffered damage to her bowels and vaginal cuff during a hysterectomy in January 2010. The complaint claims that Intuitive Surgical failed to provide hospitals with skilled technicians and proper training for doctors, and over-promoted the robotic surgery machine without providing adequate warnings about the risk of complications.

Similar lawsuits have been filed in U.S. District Courts in Alabama, Louisiana and New York, but product liability lawyers investigating da Vinci claims expect that number to increase over the coming months and years.

“An estimated four in ten hospital websites in the United States publicize the use of robotic surgery, with the lion’s share touting its clinical superiority despite a lack of scientific evidence that robotic surgery is any better than conventional operations,” said the Mayfields’ attorneys for in the motion. “The hospitals employing this device have outsourced patient education content to the device manufacturer, allowing industry to make claims that are unsubstantiated by the literature.”

If the da Vinci robotic surgery litigation is consolidated as part of an MDL, all current and future federal cases would be assigned to one judge for coordinated management during pretrial proceedings. This would help reduce the likelihood of overlapping discovery and the potential for conflicting pretrial rulings from different judges.

The Mayfields have requested that the da Vinci surgery MDL be centralized in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi, before Judge Carlton Wayne Reeves. In the alternative, the plaintiffs have proposed that the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California would be a particularly convenient forum, as it is the home state of Intuitive Surgical.

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