As the manufacturers of the newest robot surgery system put it, “surgical robotics was little more than a medical curiosity until 1999, the year Intuitive Surgical introduced the da Vinci Surgical System. Today, we are the global leader in robotic-assisted minimally invasive surgery.” What Intuitive Surgical failed to point out in its marketing campaign is that it is also defending itself against numerous da Vinci lawsuits filed by patients who have suffered serious health problems, some of them life-threatening, as a result of these operations.
These lawsuits have been filed by patients who were injured in operations conducted with the da Vinci robot surgery for conditions such as obesity, endometriosis, throat cancer, prostate removal, kidney cancer, coronary artery disease, gall bladder removal and hysterectomies. Among the allegations are that patients suffered tears or burns to arteries, blood vessels, bladders, intestines, female organs and other important body organs. Wrongful deaths have been alleged and several plaintiffs are claiming that they were forced to undergo additional surgeries to repair the damage caused by the original robotic surgery.
There are enough of these lawsuits that lawyers in the cases have filed requests with the federal court system to consolidate them into a multi-district litigation, in which lawsuits from across the country with similar claims against the same defendant are grouped together.
Read More on the Da Vinci System Surgery Lawsuit
Such designations are granted by a special panel of judges to allow judicial efficiency, preventing the court system from being flooded with such suits and clogging courtrooms. It also provides a legal avenue for plaintiffs’ lawyers to pool their skills into what could become a massive class action suit. This is common in mass drug or medical product defect cases and frequently results in settlements or jury awards in the millions of dollars.
The da Vinci system is the surgical centerpiece product of California-based Intuitive Surgical and marketed to surgeons, hospitals and medical facilities as the cutting edge in surgery. Approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2000, the system allows physicians to utilize the latest technology in an attempt to reduce the size of surgical incisions and speed up recovery times for patients. The device allows surgeons to become more manipulative through tools that provide a greater range of motion than the human hand.
As one of the latest and most sophisticated medical devices placed in the marketplace the da Vinci system was immediately embraced by the medical community and our technology-crazy society. Some critics and conservative medical voices expressed concern that the product was being rushed to the market without enough clinical research and might not be as safe as advertised.
For instance, The Wall Street Journal published an investigative report detailing some of the problems with the system and the serious health problems suffered by some patients, including one who had to have four operations. Institutional organizations and publications such as the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the Kaiser Foundation and the Journal of Clinical Oncology have questioned whether the benefits of the da Vinci system outweigh the risks and whether the more expensive robotic surgery is in any way superior to traditional surgery.
Both medical experts and victims of da Vinci injuries also have raised serious questions about whether surgeons are being properly trained to use this new technology. As with any new technology, there is a learning curve and the number of surgeries conducted with robotic surgery is a tiny fraction of the experiences gained through traditional methods.
According to posted reports, Intuitive Surgical provides paid training for only two doctors for two days at each hospital or medical center that buys their system. If doctors or hospitals want more training they must pay for it and critics question whether that money will be spent in the highly competitive medical care industry.
If you check with veteran surgeons and guidelines they offer in terms of becoming competent in the operating room, most say it takes hundreds of operations to become proficient in the surgery of an individual specialty. It took most of us quite a while to learn how to use a computer but there really was no life-threatening danger involved. What mistakes might occur when physicians are trying out a complicated new robotic surgical system on patients?
The answer, according to lawyers for victims of operations that went wrong, are tears or perforation of arteries and body organs.