Lawsuit Claims da Vinci Surgical Robot Design Flaws, Poor Surgeon Training, Caused Woman’s Death after Hysterectomy

A New York father has alleged in federal lawsuit that his daughter died as a result of design flaws that plague the da Vinci Surgical Robot. According to his complaint, Intuitive Surgical’s failure to properly train surgeons to use the da Vinci Surgical Robot also contributed to his daughter’s death. The 24-year-old woman underwent a hysterectomy at a Bronx hospital in August 2010.

The da Vinci Surgical robot costs upwards of $2 million to purchase and then has a sizeable annual maintenance cost, according to the New York lawsuit. Surgeons operate the massive machine remotely from a console, while the robot’s arms are placed into the patient, for burning away tissue in order to remove the diseased organ. The robot is only sold by California-based Intuitive Surgical, and is increasingly used by hospitals to perform prostate removal and hysterectomies, and was recently cleared by U.S. regulators for use in gall bladder removal surgery.

According to the lawsuit, the Plaintiffs’ daughter suffered burns to an artery and her intestines, allegedly caused by design flaws in the robot. These defects include un-insulated surgical arms and use of electrical current which can jump to healthy internal organs and tissue, the complaint said. The lawsuit further alleges that Intuitive Surgical has failed to conduct randomized studies to assess complications that may be associated with use of the da Vinci Surgical Robot. However, according to the complaint, numerous complications have been reported in medical journals with the use of the da Vinci robot in various types of surgeries, including:

  • Tears and burns to blood vessels
  • Tears and burns to the intestines
  • Tears and burns to the uterus
  • Vaginal cuff dehiscence

The lawsuit also claims that these types of injuries often do not become apparent until after the surgical procedure. In cases where a surgeon has not been properly trained by Intuitive Surgery on the use of the machine, they may not realize that burns and tears have occurred.

A statement from the Plaintiff’s attorney also alleges that Intuitive Surgical has oversold the merits of the da Vinci robot to hospitals considering buying it:

“The cost for performing robotic surgery greatly exceeds the type of laparoscopic or open surgery it replaces, and there has been debate in the medical literature whether the extra costs — whether paid by insurance companies, the government or patients — is justified because of claimed better outcomes with the device.”

According to the same statement, the Plaintiff has filed a separate lawsuit against the surgeon who operated on his daughter, as well as the hospital where the surgery was performed, alleging both were careless.

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