da Vinci Robotic Surgery Wrongful Death Lawsuit Allowed to Proceed

A judge in Washington state court has denied an attempt by Intuitive Surgical to dismiss a wrongful death lawsuit filed over problems with the da Vinci surgical robot, allowing the product liability case to proceed over the manufacturer’s failure to provide adequate training for doctors using the device. 

The da Vinci robotic surgery lawsuit was filed by the family of Fred Taylor, who died last year after suffering a multitude of complications after a prostatectomy in 2008, involving the use of a machine designed and marketed by Intuitive Surgical.

Intuitive Surgical asked Kitsap County Superior Court Judge Jay Roof to throw out the claim, but Roof denied their request, saying that Washington state law requires medical device manufacturers to make sure adequate training is available to allow a health care professional to safely use its device, according to a Bloomberg Businessweek report.

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The doctor who performed the operation on Taylor allegedly had never used the da Vinci robot on a patient unsupervised. The surgery was supposed to take only five hours, but ended up taking more than 13, and resulted in Taylor suffering kidney damage, lung damage, incontinence, sepsis, a stroke, and resulted in him needing to use a colostomy bag.

Lack of Training a Common Allegation in Da Vinci Robot Lawsuits

The complaint filed by the Taylor family is one of a growing number of product liability lawsuits over the da Vinci robot filed after patients suffered severe injury or wrongful death following surgery. One of the most common complaints and concerns raised by plaintiffs as well as health experts is that doctors lack the proper training to use the robot safely.

The da Vinci Surgical System is a complex, remote-controlled robot that has been heavily marketed and increasingly used in recent years for a number of surgical procedures to provide a less invasive surgery, which reduces recovery time.  The device 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.

Since it was introduced, use of the da Vinci robotic surgery system has increased dramatically amid aggressive marketing and promotions by the manufacturer, Intuitive Surgical. However, there have been serious concerns that the device was overpromoted and is overused, as doctors may feel pressure to recommend robotic surgery to help hospitals recover the costs associated with the expensive machine.

Advisories and Warnings Issued About Da Vinci Risks

The ruling comes as overall concerns mount about whether the da Vinci surgical robot provides sufficient benefits to outweigh the risks and costs of the procedure.

Earlier this month the Massachusetts Board of Registration in Medicine issued an advisory, raising concerns about the lack of training, risks, and patient education involving robotic surgery. The board urged hospitals to take a more careful look at the risks associated with robotic surgery. The board also called for better patient selection criteria and improved training for surgeons conducting robotic surgery.

Another recent report, by the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), recommended against robotic hysterectomy surgery, indicating that there is a lack of evidence showing any benefit to patients compared to other means of doing a hysterectomy, yet there are increased costs and a serious risk of complications.

The stock price for Intuitive Surgical, the manufacturer of the da Vinci robot, has fallen dramatically over the past two months, and several financial analysts have predicted that the value of the company will fall even further as more information surfaces about the risk of problems with their main product and as the number of the number of da Vinci robot surgery lawsuits continue to be filed on behalf of consumers who have experienced problems.


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