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Intuitive Robotic Surgery Case Goes to Seattle-Area Jury

Jury deliberations are set to begin in the first case to go to trial of at least 26 lawsuits against Intuitive Surgical Inc. alleging injuries tied to its da Vinci robotic system.

Kitsap County Superior Court Judge Jay Roof in Port Orchard, Washington, handed off the case to the 12-member jury yesterday after a five-week trial. Deliberations will start today.

Lawyers for the estate of Fred Taylor seek $8.45 million in damages based on claims that Intuitive is mostly to blame for his injuries stemming from a 2008 robot-assisted removal of his prostate gland. Taylor and his family allege he suffered because of Intuitive’s inadequate training that was streamlined and compromised by the company’s push to sell its robots.

A lawyer for the company, Allen Ruby, yesterday told the jury in closing arguments that Intuitive’s warnings went unheeded by Taylor’s urologist, Scott Bildsten, and that he is responsible for Taylor’s injuries.

Taylor experienced multiple medical complications following the surgery and died four years later.

“Dr. Bildsten knew the path he was on was unduly risky, and he still proceeded,” Ruby said. Taylor was morbidly obese and previously had surgery for a hernia, which according to Intuitive’s instructions, made him unfit as a candidate for Bildsten’s first four to six surgeries, Ruby told jurors.

It is “frightening” how a patient’s fate “can be compromised due to the disregard of warnings,” Ruby said. “Surgeons are among the most highly trained members of our society. When they take undue risks,” he said, “the consequences on the innocent person are wrong.”

Bildsten settled claims against him by Taylor’s estate, according to court documents, which didn’t provide specifics.

10 Ways

The plaintiff’s lawyer, Richard Friedman, in his closing arguments on May 20 cited 10 ways in which Intuitive was negligent, telling jurors that the most egregious of these was recommending that a surgeon needs only two supervised robotic surgeries following a one-day session at company headquarters in Sunnyvale, California, before being ready to perform the procedure alone.

That recommendation, which appears in company documents describing “best practices,” was the idea of Gene Nagel, who was an executive in charge of training and development and “a former wine salesman with no prior training” in medicine or medical devices, Friedman said.

Bildsten had performed 100 successful prostatectomies using traditional methods. Taylor was his first patient using the da Vinci unassisted. After seven hours of difficulty, Bildsten and other doctors turned to traditional surgery and then emergency care to repair a rectal laceration.

In robotic surgery, a doctor sits at console several feet from the patient and peers into a high-definition display. Foot pedals and hand controls maneuver mechanical arms equipped with surgical tools, guided by a 3D camera that shows the work as it is done inside a patient.

The case is Estate of Fred E. Taylor v. Intuitive Surgical Inc., 09-2-03136-5, Superior Court, State of Washington, Kitsap County (Port Orchard).

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