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Court decides robotic surgery medical malpractice claim

Photo of Drew Britcher

When medical errors happen in New Jersey, there are a number of questions that must be studied to learn whether the errors constituted medical malpractice. In general, if a mistake is caused by a doctor or nurse deviating from the accepted standards of practice, that mistake is medical malpractice. However, doctors, nurses and other medical professionals are not the only ones who can be held liable for medical errors. Hospitals and the manufacturers and sellers of medical devices sometimes also run afoul of accepted standards, resulting in harmful complications for patients.

Whether an individual medical professional, hospital or organization should be held liable for medical malpractice depends on a number of factors. For example, recently a number of devastating complications of robotic surgery have surfaced, prompting some patients and their families to try to hold the maker of the robotic surgery systems liable. In fact, 26 lawsuits have been filed against Intuitive Surgical Inc., accusing the company of being responsible for injuries and even deaths that resulted from robotic surgery.

The first of these lawsuits was decided just last week. The jury ruled in favor of Intuitive Surgical, finding it not liable.

That case was filed by the estate of a man who was 67 when he underwent a prostate surgery byway of a da Vinci surgical system. The da Vinci system allows a surgeon to sit in a command center and direct the operation using robotic tools.

The surgeon who operated on this man had never used a da Vinci system without supervision prior to this patient's procedure. The procedure did not go well; the patient suffered several complications including kidney failure and brain damage.

The man's estate sued both the surgeon and Intuitive Surgical. The medical malpractice claim against the surgeon was resolved in a confidential settlement.

While the lawsuit accused Intuitive Surgical of failing to properly train surgeons on the da Vinci system, Intuitive argued that it warned surgeons not to use the robotic system on obese patients, like the man in this case.

As mentioned above, the jury ruled in favor of Intuitive Surgical, however this not to say that the other 25 cases will yield similar results. It has actually been reported that many more robotic surgery lawsuits may soon be filed, containing a variety of claims of negligence.

Those who have suffered serious complications following a robotic surgical procedure here in New Jersey may benefit from seeking legal counsel to learn about their rights and legal options.

Source: Thomson Reuters News & Insight, "Intuitive Surgical wins case over robotic surgery," Jessica Dye, May 28, 2013

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