Intuitive wins first da Vinci trial; stock jumps

Intuitive Surgical won its first of 26 lawsuits over the da Vinci robotic surgery device.--Courtesy of Intuitive Surgical

Intuitive Surgical ($ISRG) has prevailed in the first of at least 26 lawsuits over its da Vinci robotic surgery system, as a Washington jury found that the company was not negligent in its training of surgeons.

As Bloomberg reports, in a 10-2 verdict, the jury said Intuitive's practices did not lead to the death of Fred Taylor, who underwent da Vinci-assisted prostate gland removal in 2008, and the company doesn't have to pay the $8.5 million in damages sought by plaintiffs. 

The suit argued that Intuitive's protocols, under which surgeons are cleared to perform invasive procedures after just two supervised surgeries and a one-day training session, were to blame for complications that led to Taylor's death. An ex-salesman testified that he was encouraged to pressure surgeons to adopt the technology as quickly as possible.

In defense, Intuitive pointed out that Taylor's obesity should have precluded him from a da Vinci procedure in the first place, and that Taylor's surgeon--in his first robotic surgery--was to blame for the botched operation. In separate proceedings, the surgeon settled with Taylor's estate out of court for an undisclosed amount, Bloomberg notes.

Intuitive's shares spiked as much as 5.5% after the Thursday announcement, closing at $478.46.

While the victory is certainly a weight off Intuitive's shoulders, it still has at least 25 lawsuits standing by and, with about 300,000 da Vinci-assisted procedures performed in the U.S. last year, there could well be many more plaintiffs on the way.

And even if Intuitive is able to fend off litigation, it still faces scrutiny and doubt from physicians and regulators. The FDA is surveying surgeons to determine whether da Vinci provides enough of a benefit to excuse its high rate of adverse events, and, in March, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists slammed the robotic surgery system, claiming it does little more than add to the cost of procedures.

- read the Bloomberg story