Trial to begin in Intuitive surgical robot patient death

Intuitive Surgical ($ISRG) will face opening arguments as early as April 15 in a civil lawsuit alleging it didn't properly train doctors to use its da Vinci surgical robots, leading to the death of a prostate surgery patient. The case could affect other device companies down the line, depending on whether the jury finds that the manufacturer had a legal duty to train its customer.

As Bloomberg reports, the state court jury trial, which will take place in Port Orchard, Washington, is one of at least 12 filed against the company since 2011 alleging injuries connected to the use of da Vinci-related systems. Scheduling of the trial comes a month after Intuitive failed to win a motion to throw out the lawsuit.

The first lawsuit comes from the family of the late Fred Taylor. He underwent a 7-hour da Vinci-assisted prostate surgery, after which he faced brain damage, kidney failure, incontinence and death. Taylor's family claims his injuries are the result of Intuitive's poor training of his physician, Scott Bildsten. But the company told Bloomberg in an email statement that it isn't required under Washington law to train doctors on the da Vinci system, though it takes "legal claims seriously."

Citing court filings, Bloomberg says Bildsten, prior to using the da Vinci system, had 100 prostatectomies under his belt using a traditional approach that went off without a hitch. But Bildsten, according to court documents, said Intuitive's training didn't mention the risk of an inflated abdomen (which happened to Taylor), or that he needed to use the robot to create a watertight seal between the bladder and urethra after removing the prostate. The absence of that procedure led to a series of events that culminated in Taylor's stroke and the other health side effects mentioned, eventually killing him.

Intuitive's da Vinci robots, at about $1.5 million apiece, have helped the company become immensely profitable. Bloomberg notes that the lawsuit hasn't hurt the company's fortunes yet, either. Intuitive's stock traded at $513.11 late Monday morning, up over $1.

- read the full Bloomberg story