Intuitive Surgical Wins Case Over Robotic Surgery System

May 28, 2013

(Reuters) - A Washington state jury has found that Intuitive Surgical Inc did not fail to properly train a doctor who used its robotic surgery system, handing the company a victory in the first of more than two dozen similar lawsuits to go to trial.

Jurors deliberated for a day and a half before voting 10-2 that Intuitive Surgical was not liable in a $8 million lawsuit brought by the estate of Fred Taylor, lawyers for the parties said.

Taylor was 67 years old when he underwent prostate surgery involving a da Vinci surgical system, which allows doctors to perform operations with robotic tools. He died last year.

The lawsuit was filed in 2009 alleging the company failed to properly train the doctor that performed the surgery, according to Richard Friedman, who represented the estate. The defendants included Intuitive Surgical and the doctor, Scott Bildsten.

Taylor's operation marked the first time that Bildsten had used the da Vinci system unsupervised, according to court filings. Complications arose during the surgery, prompting Bildsten to undock the system and finish the operation without it, the filings said.

Plaintiffs alleged Taylor suffered a number of medical problems as a result of the surgery, including extreme blood loss, acute kidney failure, incontinence and impaired brain function.

The lawsuit alleged Intuitive Surgical was liable for negligence and other related claims.

Intuitive argued in court filings and at trial that it was not liable for the surgeon's actions or Taylor's injuries. The company also pointed out that da Vinci users are warned not to use it on obese patients like Taylor.

In a statement, Intuitive Surgical spokeswoman Angela Wonson said the company was pleased with the verdict.

There are 25 other similar lawsuits nationwide pending against Intuitive Surgical, the company said in a filing in April.

Friedman said his clients were disappointed with the jury's decision in what he described as a tough case.

He said the loss did not necessarily mean that similar lawsuits over the da Vinci system would result in the same verdict.

"This is just the tip of the iceberg," Friedman said, predicting that thousands of lawsuits may eventually be filed over the system.

Bildsten separately resolved claims against him in a confidential settlement, Friedman said.

The da Vinci system has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for use in a wide range of surgical procedures. The system has been installed at more than 2,025 hospital around the world, according to Intuitive Surgical.

The case is Taylor v. Bildsten, Superior Court of the State of Washington, Kitsap County, No. 09-2-03136-5.

For the plaintiffs: Richard Friedman of Friedman Rubin.

For the defendants: Allen Ruby of Skadden Arts Slate Meagher & Flom.

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