There is a new type of medical malpractice case that has started to hit the courts. Due to the recent upswing in robotic-assisted surgery, we are seeing more and more lawsuits over serious injuries caused by da Vinci robotic surgeries. The da Vinci is a futuristic piece of technology that some hospitals are pushing on their doctors. The manufacturer, Intuitive Surgical, touts the device as a surgical tool for smaller incisions and quicker recovery times. Unfortunately, there are problems.
The first problem is the technology itself. Evidence collected so far indicates that there may be problems with the design or manufacture of the robot. During some surgeries, patients have been seriously burned by electrical current that jumped from the machine to the patient. In one case, a young woman who was scheduled for what should have been a routine hysterectomy had burns to her intestines and an artery, and she died within two weeks of the surgery. Other cases have seen broken surgical blades.
The second problem is training–this is a sophisticated piece of equipment. To doctors using it, it may feel like a video game, but the equipment and software are complex. This is not like learning to pass eight levels of Super Mario Bros. Hospitals are anxious for their doctors to use the equipment so that they can advertise their cutting-edge technological expertise. The manufacturer provides a small degree of training, but in light of the number of mistakes made by doctors during surgery, that training is clearly insufficient.
The da Vinci is used for any number of surgeries–most often hysterectomies, bladder surgeries and throat surgeries. Though cases are being filed, these are untested waters. Lawyers and clients must decide whether to bring a product defect case against the manufacturer (for failure to warn, design defect, or manufacturing defect), or a medical malpractice case against the surgeon or hospital, or both. Expert testimony in each type of case (product liability and medical malpractice) is extensive. To do both at the same will require experts in the underlying surgery, and perhaps others like computer programmers,software engineers and mechanical engineers.