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Robot Maker Sued Over Hysterectomy Patient's Death

Father blames design flaws in Intuitive Surgical's da Vinci robot for death of 24-year-old daughter.

Published: April 10, 2012

A product liability lawsuit against Intuitive Surgery claims a 24-year-old woman's death was caused by the company's da Vinci surgical robot in addition to errors the surgeon made during the hysterectomy.

The lawsuit alleges design flaws in the da Vinci, such as poorly insulated surgical arms and electrical current that was strong enough to jump to healthy tissue. The patient allegedly had burns to an artery and her intestines from the da Vinci and died 2 weeks after the procedure.

The lawsuit also alleges that Intuitive Surgical provided insufficient training on the robot's use. "The complaint says this doctor didn't have the knowledge to properly control the machinery," says Paul Rheingold, a New York attorney representing the father of Kimberly McCalla, who died after a hysterectomy in 2010. "We allege Intuitive has been certifying doctors after a very small training period."

Until recently, lawsuits alleging medical errors involving da Vinci have named only the surgeon, says Mr. Rheingold. "It may help the doctors to learn they were not really at fault, that it was the machine," says Mr. Rheingold.

The lawsuit, filed April 4 in federal court, follows a separate malpractice complaint filed in state court against Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, N.Y., and the surgeon for the patient's death. Neither the lawsuit nor Mr. Rheingold named the surgeon.

Mr. Rheingold says several attorneys in other parts of the country are in the process of filing similar product liability lawsuits against Intuitive about da Vinci, and if the cases are allowed to move forward, they might be consolidated under one court as multi-district litigation, which is easier for plaintiffs' lawyers to litigate.

Intuitive Surgical has managed to avoid past malpractice lawsuits involving da Vinci because it could not be shown that the injury was caused by a mechanical malfunction. A spokeswoman for Intuitive Surgical, based in Sunnyvale, Calif., declined to comment on the lawsuit.

Leigh Page

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