The rise of the lawsuits — against Intuitive Surgical robots

It’s the rise of the lawsuits — against robots. Intuitive Surgical shares have fallen sharply this month amid questions about the safety of its da Vinci Surgical System and other robotic products. The Sunnyvale company has been the target of at least 10 lawsuits in the past 14 months, according to Bloomberg Businessweek, which quotes one plaintiff who says her robot-performed hysterectomy “forever changed [her] life for the worse.”

Thursday,  the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists said in a statement that “there is no good data proving that robotic hysterectomy is even as good as — let alone better — than existing, and far less costly, minimally invasive alternatives.

But Intuitive stands by its technology. “It is well documented in the clinical literature that a minimally invasive procedure compared to open is better for patients and saves cost for the entire health care system. Robotic surgery is a technological advance that is enabling more women to receive minimally invasive surgery,” the company said in a statement emailed to GMSV this morning.

Earlier this year, the FDA reportedly sent a survey to doctors about the performance and safety of robotic devices in surgery as it has received more medical device reports. Intuitive said in a statement this week that it changed the way it reports incidents, and that “the vast majority” of its reports “were related to instruments and not to systems.”

Businessweek points out that the stakes are high: Intuitive dominates the nascent industry, and the company’s 2012 revenue of $2.2 billion was almost entirely from its da Vinci system. CEO Gary Guthart told  the Merc’s Mike Cassidy last year that each of the company’s robotic surgical systems — which is built in Silicon Valley — costs $1.5 million.

The company’s shares were down more than 5 percent to $462.21 as of this post. The shares have fallen more than 16 percent since the beginning of the month.

Levi Sumagaysay Levi Sumagaysay (4175 Posts)

Levi Sumagaysay is editor of the combined SiliconBeat and Good Morning Silicon Valley. She also helps take care of SiliconValley.com, the Mercury News tech website. Email: lsumagaysay@bayareanewsgroup.com