Da Vinci robot makers send out a warning about their product

Published: May. 10, 2013 at 10:03 PM CDT|Updated: May. 17, 2013 at 6:03 PM CDT
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File photo of the da Vinci Surgical System
File photo of the da Vinci Surgical System

Natalie Breaux was 40 when she had minor surgery in Baton Rouge. Doctors used the da Vinci Surgical System to perform what its makers call "minimally invasive" robotic surgery.

It was successful and she went home. But seven days later, she was admitted to Terrebonne General with raging complications.

Hugh Lambert is her family's attorney  "They immediately opened her up and found extensive fecal contamination in her peritoneal cavity. She remained in intensive care for several weeks and finally died," Lambert said. "The problem was not the surgeon, not the hospital, but the errant electricity. It caused this thermal injury to her colon."

It's the same kind of problems spelled out in an urgent medical notification, sent out by da Vinci maker Intuitive Surgical this week. The scissor end of the shaft used for operations, Intuitive admits, could create a pathway for an electro-surgical charge.

"From every state in the union I have thousands of cases," said Danny Becnel, the lead counsel on 2,000 lawsuits across the country.  "The evidence was mounting and they come out with a urgent warning letter that says errant electricity happens."

The new notification bolsters the case his team of lawyers has been working on for over a year.

The warning Intuitive Surgical sent out concerns 2009-2010 models.

"A very experienced physician who has done 50 to 150 procedures probably wouldn't have as much of a chance to have errant electricity zap something, but that's not who they market it to," Becnel said.

Dr. Raju Thomas is a Tulane surgeon who has used the da Vinci robot since 2002. He says he's had success.

"Each operating room has to be responsible for checking their instruments. And to say it's the company is not fair. Each operating room has to be responsible for checking the instrument," Thomas said.

Attorneys say the harm has been done in Natalie's case and many other cases of injury. They say it justifies fighting for justice.

"It absolutely is what killed Natalie and what it means is it's going to be a lot easier for us to prove our case, because the manufacturer see it's a problem," Lambert said.