A recurring theme in many da Vinci robot lawsuits naming Intuitive Surgical Inc. as a defendant is that of inadequate training of surgeons in the use of the company’s robotic surgical system. Surgical injuries can occur with robot-assisted surgery in a number of ways, most commonly when blood vessels are nicked or organ linings are punctured by accident. It is also possible for a patient to be harmed when the electric current jumps from the instruments to the patient, causing burns that can lead to serious health issues or even death.
The surgeon’s training comes into play in this last instance with the simple act of cleaning an instrument that came with the da Vinci system in the midst of a procedure. Properly trained surgeons would know not to scrape instruments together to clean them as this causes the protective coating to be scraped off as well. This increases the risk of “arcing,” which is when an electrical current appears to jump from one surface to another.
Plaintiffs in the cases against Intuitive claim that the company knew of this particular risk, yet failed to inform surgeons about it. Moreover, in order to increase the number of surgeons who are credentialed for its use and thus increase demand for the product, da Vinci system salespeople aggressively push hospitals relax credential requirements for surgeons being trained to use it. Since robot-assisted surgery is physically easier on the surgeon and comes at a premium, the tendency is for surgeons who have credentials to recommend the da Vinci system to their patients needing gynecologic, cardiothoracic, urologic and general surgery.
In most cases where burning occurred, surgeons are seldom listed as a defendant in personal injury claims because they are not considered to be at fault. The manufacturer is responsible for providing users of the new technology with the skills and knowledge to use the tool safely and effectively.