After more than four weeks of trial, the first da Vinci Surgical System lawsuit to reach a jury has ended with a defense verdict.
Certainly, Intuitive Surgical is breathing a sigh of relief today. But you have to keep in mind that there are two claims that come out of these da Vinci surgical robot cases: malpractice and product liability. This case was probably a good malpractice case. Why do I say that? Because the (1) the fact read like a malpractice case, (2) plaintiffs already had a big win before this case went to trial because the doctor already settled this claim before trial, (3) even Intuitive argued that the doctor was to blame. (Note to doctors out there: Intuitive Surgical may be quick to throw you under the bus.
Here is the gist of this wrongful death case: A man dies after complications following a robotic prostatectomy. After the surgery, he suffers several complications including kidney damage, lung damage, incontinence, sepsis, and a stroke.
Suit was filed against Intuitive Surgical, the manufacturer of the da Vinci Surgical System, as well as against the surgeon. With a vote of 10-2, jurors found in favor of Intuitive. Again, and this is a big deal, the surgeon had reached a confidential settlement with the family prior to the start of the trial.
During the trial, Intuitive Surgical argued that the deceased was extremely overweight, and should not have been operated on using the da Vinci system. Intuitive told the jury that the surgeon ignored training instructions directing him to only choose simple cases and patients with a low body-mass index for his first several operations. The surgeon 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.
Intuitive Surgical faces a multitude of allegations ranging from inadequate training to design defects. This was the first of nearly thirty lawsuits to reach a jury.
Further causing problems for Intuitive Surgical, a recent study has raised additional questions about the need for robotic-assisted surgery in many cases. The research suggests that the da Vinci surgical robot should be reserved for procedures that are much more complicated, and that cannot be easily handled by laparoscopic surgery. It further suggests that patients are more likely to suffer complications, pay more, and are under the knife longer than patients treated through laparoscopic surgery.
Will this impact potential da Vinci robotic surgery settlements?
This verdict might embolden Intuitive Surgical to think that these cases are more malpractice cases than product liability claims. But Intuitive knows it bears some responsibility for how poorly trained these doctors were.
More importantly, does Intuitive really want to have these battles over and over with doctors? I’ve never worked for a big company but I have been an attorney for drug and medical device companies and have some insight into their thinking. I can’t imagine there have not been a lot of interesting debates at Intuitive Surgical about how to approach this problem. Eventually, they are going to make a good product – I know they are working diligently to make these robots as useful as possible to help patients. (And, oh yeah, continue to make buckets of money.) So wouldn’t there be wisdom, when it doubt, of picking up the settlement tab (average of $300,000 a case?) for some of these malpractice claims just to turn the page?
- More Problems: Intuitive Surgical’s problems keep mounting
- More Bad News for the da Vinci Robotic Surgical System
- Lawsuit Overview