Judge: Intuitive must face patient death lawsuit

Intuitive Surgical will have to face a jury in a lawsuit over its da Vinci surgical robot.--Courtesy of Intuitive Surgical

Intuitive Surgical ($ISRG) will have to stand trial in a lawsuit claiming the company failed to train its customers, resulting in a patient's death, a Washington state court found.

As Bloomberg reports, Judge Jay Roof denied Intuitive's motion to toss the lawsuit, ruling that Washington law requires medical device marketers to properly train their clients, and, as the suit alleges Intuitive sold its da Vinci robotic surgery system without doing so, the company will have its day in court.

The lawsuit, among at least 10 filed against the company, is on behalf of Fred Taylor, who died after his da Vinci-assisted prostate surgery resulted in brain damage, kidney failure and incontinence, according to the suit. Josette Taylor, his widow, told Bloomberg his injuries could have been avoided if not for Intuitive's "woefully inadequate" training program "designed to give surgeons a false sense of confidence."

A company spokeswoman told the news service that Roof's ruling does not suggest a decision based on the lawsuit's merits but rather "indicates there are disputed facts that require this issue to be resolved at trial."

Intuitive doesn't yet have a court date for this first suit, but if a jury finds the company liable for da Vinci-related injuries, it could be on the hook for millions, and with more than 300,000 procedures performed last year alone, Intuitive could face far more than 10 lawsuits in the long term.

And while former patients are dialing up attorneys, physicians and regulators are taking a closer look at da Vinci's track record. The FDA is surveying surgeons to find out whether the robotic surgery devices provide enough of a benefit to excuse their rates of adverse events, and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recently questioned whether devices like da Vinci do more than add to the cost of procedures.

- read Bloomberg's story