Intuitive's first da Vinci suit heads to jury with $8.5M on the line

Intuitive Surgical faces at least 26 lawsuits over its da Vinci robotic surgery device.--Courtesy of Intuitive Surgical

Intuitive Surgical ($ISRG) is looking at up to $8.5 million in damages in its first lawsuit over injuries caused by the da Vinci robotic surgery system, and the company's fate is now in the hands of a Washington jury.

As Bloomberg reports, arguments in the first of at least 26 lawsuits over da Vinci have wrapped up, and a 12-member jury will now decide whether Intuitive was negligent in its training, or, as the company asserts, the burden falls on the surgeon who performed the prostate gland-removal procedure that eventually killed patient Fred Taylor.

Intuitive claims the surgeon took undue risks in the procedure, which was his first with robotic assistance. However, the prosecution argues that Intuitive is to blame for its recommendation, telling surgeons they're safe to perform invasive procedures after just two supervised surgeries and a one-day training session.

Previously in the trial, a former Intuitive sales rep testified that the company asked its marketers to aggressively pressure surgeons to switch over to da Vinci, feeding the plaintiff's claims that Intuitive shorted training and preparation in the interest of moving units.

While the Washington jury deliberates and dozens of plaintiffs wait in the wings, physicians and regulators are taking a closer look at da Vinci's track record. The FDA is surveying surgeons to suss out whether the devices provide enough of a benefit to excuse their high rates of adverse events, and, in March, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists cast serious doubt on whether devices like da Vinci do much more than add to the cost of surgery.

Intuitive maintains that da Vinci is safe and effective for many minimally invasive procedures, and, despite all the scrutiny and legal wrangling of the past 6 months, the company's bottom line has thus far been unmarred. Last quarter, Intuitive's revenue jumped 23% to $611 million, and net income rose 31% to $189 million.

- read the Bloomberg story