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Massachusetts patients injured by surgical robot

Advances in medical technology have greatly improved the availability of life-saving care to many patients. Medical technologies, such as surgical robots, can become subject to products liability claims for a variety of reasons. While some medical products suffer from poor designs that render them dangerous, others become hazards when defects in their production cause operational dangers.

Some surgical patients in Massachusetts suffered injuries, however, when a company that produces surgical robots purportedly failed to train doctors on how to use the technology and that exposed the company to claims of product liability. The company, Intuitive Surgical, Inc., is currently subject to an out of state lawsuit brought by the family of a victim who allegedly died as a result of injuries suffered during surgery that utilized the dangerous product.

The lawsuit, which alleges that the victim suffered kidney failure and incontinence prior to his death by heart failure brought on by the subject surgical procedure, is one of several filed against Intuitive Surgical in the last two years. Though the company attempted to have the lawsuit dismissed under the theory that the victim's allegations support a claim of medical malpractice and not product liability, the court determined that the state's laws require makers of medical technologies to train medical personnel on the safe operation of their products.

This determination is an early victory for Massachusetts patients who suffered injuries as a result of improperly used surgical robots. Reports have suggested that such patient injuries have resulted from inadequate training by the surgical robot maker of medical workers as well as insufficient warnings about the risks of using the technology. As in the present case, other medical products are simply marketed or promoted in such a way that their dangers are not obvious to those who are intended to benefit from their use.

As illustrated by this lawsuit, a fine line can exist between medical malpractice claims and products liability claims. When a patient is injured during a medical procedure intended to provide restorative care, some party is responsible for the victim's incurred pain and suffering and the victim may be entitled to compensation.

Source: Bloomburg, "Intuitive Surgical Loses Bid to Throw Out Robot Lawsuit," Jeff Feeley and Robert Langreth, March 26, 2013

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