Our laws place obligations on doctors that correspond with the tremendous amount of trust we place on them. As medical technology advances, however, newer medical devices may exceed the skills that most doctors have worked for years to develop. These devices may offer cost-saving, or even life-saving, benefits to patients, but the full implications of a surgical device that the surgeon may not fully understand remain unknown. A lawsuit is seeking to hold the manufacturer of a robotic surgical device liable for injuries caused by complications during a procedure.
A Washington woman is suing Intuitive Surgical, Inc., the nation’s leading robotic surgical system provider, for injuries sustained by her husband during a prostatectomy in 2008. Estate of Fred E. Taylor v. Intuitive Surgical, No. 09-2-03136-5 (Wash. Super. Ct., Kitsap Co.) The surgeon used robotic surgical equipment called the da Vinci Surgical System. Alleged malfunctions in the system reportedly caused the ordinarily five-hour procedure to take over thirteen hours. According to the New York Times, the 67 year-old patient suffered a stroke, sepsis, and damage to his kidneys and lungs as a result. He survived the procedure but died in 2012. A judge ruled on March 26, 2013 that the case may proceed under state products liability law.
Intuitive claims that nearly 1,400 hospitals around the country have purchased the da Vinci system, which they say can perform various surgical procedures less invasively, with less pain and fewer complications for patients. The surgeon uses the system by operating controls at a console and viewing the procedure as a three-dimensional image. The system scales the surgeon’s hand movements to miniature surgical instruments.