A Big Legal Win for Intuitive Surgical

In March, fellow Fool Brenton Flynn wondered aloud whether the onus for recent robotic surgery errors should really fall on Intuitive Surgical (NASDAQ: ISRG  ) .

To be sure, while Intuitive does claim many benefits with its widely used da Vinci robotics platform, Brenton also pointed out that user error still remains a significant factor in whether surgeries performed with the system are successful.

Intuitive Surgical stock

Image source: Intuitive Surgical.

Of course, that didn't prevent more than 20 civil lawsuits from being filed recently against Intuitive Surgical alleging negligence on the company's part in the training of surgeons who use the machines.

As a result, as of yesterday shares of Intuitive Surgical had fallen more than 16% since the beginning of February as investors questioned the future of robotic surgery.

A big (and unsurprising) win
Now, shares of Intuitive ended Friday up nearly 5% after a jury determined that the company is not responsible for surgery complications that were the subject in the first of those trials.

In that suit, plaintiffs had sought more than $8 million in compensation in connection with the death of a patient who had his prostate gland removed with a da Vinci robot in 2008, and who died four years later from related health complications.

Long story short, the procedure was the first prostate removal performed by that particular surgeon using the machine. And Intuitive, for its part, advises all of its surgeons not to perform surgeries on patients who are obese until they have more experience -- advice that this surgeon apparently decided to ignore.

For Intuitive Surgical, then, the precedent set by this case will undoubtedly go a long way toward reassuring that the medical industry benefits of their robots far outweigh the risks. As Intuitive representatives pointed out after the verdict, their "technologies have extended the benefits of minimally invasive surgery to over 1.5 million patients around the world."

What's more, Intuitive continues to do everything in its power to ensure that its products are used safely and properly; despite its legal woes, the company took the step just a few weeks ago to issue a precautionary medical notice about a potential defect in certain versions of a scissor instrument, after they received one complaint of injury from a set of scissors later found to have "microcracks" that could result in burns.

Still, many in the medical industry claim that such notices are fairly common, and Intuitive chose not to go so far as to recall the instrument. Instead, the company said a replacement would be available in two to four weeks.

Foolish final thoughts
Now don't get me wrong; nothing can minimize the pain and loss endured by the patients and their respective families who are involved with these cases.

However, it's impossible to completely eliminate the risk with any surgical procedure, even if a million-dollar robot is lending a helping hand.

In the end, the fact remains that millions of people have undergone successful surgeries with Intuitive's products, and this case shows that it's very likely the company will live to see millions more.

Are stories of this demise greatly exaggerated?
Intuitive Surgical expert Karl Thiel also believes the company's visible path to long-term growth persists. Will Intuitive capitalize, or be crushed by unforeseen pitfalls? His report highlights all of the key opportunities and risks facing the company -- and includes a full year of ongoing updates as key new hits -- so be sure to claim your copy by clicking here now.


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  • Report this Comment On May 24, 2013, at 6:46 PM, rondean1234 wrote:

    Fortunately millions of Hondas have been sold, but only a few fools who text while driving or drive while intoxicated have been in accidents. When will the legal system stop being greedy and look at how many accidents happen in general surgery alone before they go after robots where it is mostly the user's fault. A 1999 study by the Institute of Medicine, "To Err is Human: Building a Safer Health System," concluded that medical error deaths range from about 44,000 to 98,000 a year. There were no robots involved in these statistics.

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