A U.S. appeals court revived a lawsuit alleging that flawed electrical scissors from Intuitive Surgical were used during a hysterectomy.
The appeals court panel ruled that a lower court applied the wrong legal standard in dismissing Tamanchia Moore’s lawsuit against Intuitive. Specifically, the district court erred by excluding Moore’s causation expert, according to the ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. The court ruled that the expert was in fact qualified to testify.
Moore underwent a robotically assisted laparoscopic hysterectomy in March 2013, after which she began to suffer from severe abdominal pain and the inability to urinate. She found that her left ureter was burned during the procedure, which she discovered was performed with a pair of miniature electrified scissors from Intuitive, according to the ruling.
Those scissors were susceptible to forming microcracks along the shaft, which could leak electrical current during operations and burn the surrounding flesh, the ruling said. In the months that followed Moore’s procedure, the device — the Endowrist Hotshears Monopolar Curved Scissors (the “MCS”) — was recalled. The MCS was used by attaching to the arm of the Da Vinci surgical robotic system.
In seeking monetary damages to compensate for her injuries, Moore retained the services of Dr. Michael Hall to testify as an expert witness on both the standard of care for hysterectomy procedures and the cause of her injuries. Hall is an obstetrician-gynecologist who had performed thousands of hysterectomy procedures with different tools.
However, Hall was excluded from testifying after Intuitive argued that he did not use the instruments at the heart of the issue and was not qualified to render expert testimony on the cause of Moore’s injury. As Hall was Moore’s only causation expert, the district court entered summary judgment in favor of Intuitive.
The appeals court ruled that the district court’s decision that Hall was not qualified to testify was “manifestly erroneous” because it applied the wrong legal standard by conflating the criteria of reliability and qualifications for expert witnesses.
The appeals court also ruled that the district court set the bar too high by requiring that Hall be a user of Intuitive’s product in order to be qualified to testify as an expert.
“We therefore conclude that the district court abused its discretion in excluding Dr. Hall’s testimony on the basis of his qualifications,” Circuit judge Barbara Lagoa wrote for the appeals panel.
The appeals court reversed the district court’s ruling to exclude Hall from testifying, vacated the district court’s entry of summary judgment in favor of Intuitive and remanded for further proceedings. The chief judge of the district court has been directed to reassign the case to a different judge before it proceeds.