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Robotic Malpractice? Groundbreaking Trial Confronts New Tech

In a case that could have broad repercussions throughout the medical industry, the first trial involving Intuitive Surgical Inc.'s robotic surgery system is wrapping up this week. The lawsuit could wind up forcing Intuitive Surgical to change its product to ensure that is safe enough for use in hospitals in California and around the nation.

This robotic surgery system, known as the da Vinci system, is intended to help surgeons perform some procedures. The doctor uses a computer monitor and uses sophisticated controls to operate robotic arms.

In theory, this could have big benefits for American patients, making surgeries more efficient and safe. However, these benefits depend upon whether the company and its managers can use enough safeguards to prevent patient injuries along the way. 

In this case, a patient underwent a robotic-assisted surgery with an inexperienced surgeon. Despite the fact that the surgeon had only participated in two training procedures, he still tried to operate on this patient. The surgery involved serious complications and the patient ultimately died several years later from related problems.

His family brought this wrongful death and products liability lawsuit - the case could have big repercussions for surgeons and medical technology companies.

Source: Bloomberg, "Intuitive Robotic Surgery Case Goes to Seattle-Area Jury," Patricia Guthrie & Joel Rosenblatt, May 21, 2013 

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