The da Vinci Surgical Robot was created by Intuitive Surgical and approved by the FDA in 2000. The intent? Robotic surgeries would be less invasive and require smaller incisions, resulting in less scarring and speedier patient recovery. Across the country, though, numerous lawsuits have been filed due to injuries and deaths that have resulted from botched robotic surgeries.
The surgical arms of the robot are not insulated, allowing electrical current to jump to healthy organs and tissue and resulting in serious injuries to patients, including torn and burned blood vessels, intestines, and uterus. Additional complications include vaginal cuff dehiscence, punctured ureters, severe bowel injury, excessive bleeding, and death. Some of these are attributable to the alleged design flaw of the robot – the jumping electrical current – and some are considered to be the result of a lack of proper training for the surgeons.
The da Vinci Surgical Robot’s two million dollar price tag includes a two-day training session for two doctors. However, the doctors themselves estimate that true proficiency with the technology requires the performance of hundreds of surgeries. Some hospitals do require intensive training before they allow their doctors to operate the machines, but many allow their surgeons to use the robots after only a few training sessions. What encourages many hospitals to forego more intensive training is the perceived need to justify such an expensive piece of equipment. A 2003 lawsuit alleged that the hospital was more interested in using their new device than in ensuring the safety of its patients. What led to this lawsuit? An operation to remove a cancerous kidney ended when the doctor, via the surgical robot, cut the patient’s aorta and vena cava.
Other lawsuits include a wrongful death suit filed by a New York man whose daughter died two weeks after a hysterectomy due to burns to her arteries and intestines. In Chicago, a man died after his doctor, using the surgical robot to remove his patient’s spleen, punctured his lower intestine. The injury was discovered too late to save the man’s life. In 2010, a woman sued the New Hampshire hospital where both of her ureters were severed during her hysterectomy. A Mississippi woman’s hysterectomy resulted in a pelvic abscess along the vaginal cuff. Years later, she still suffers from pain and discomfort.
Allegations that they’ve suppressed complaints, concealed rates of complications, and used questionable marketing tactics continue to dog Intuitive Surgical.