Family of man who died after surgery awarded $7.5M

February 17, 2012 4:34:19 PM PST
Juan Fernandez died after a robotic surgical procedure went wrong during surgery on his spleen. A jury has now awarded his family $7.5 million.

During surgery in January of 2007 to remove the spleen, attorneys for the Fernandez family argued doctors using a robotic system to perform the surgery accidently punctured the lower intestine nearly a foot away. But by the time another doctor discovered the problem two weeks later it was too late to save Fernandez.

The DaVinci robot system is designed to almost eliminate the margin for error during surgery. A growing number of doctors and hospitals are using the system. The robotic arms perform the surgical tasks but they are still directed by doctors.

When the 49-year-old went in for routine surgery to remove his spleen, his family's attorneys argued the robot was unnecessary.

"As our expert said, it was like using an 18-wheeler to get a quart of milk at the market," said Ted McNabola, Fernandez family Attorney. "And they just weren't careful."

Jurors determined those doctors caused the robotic arms to puncture an area in the small intestine called the duadenym. The injuries went undetected for about two weeks while Fernandez suffered an infection, brain damage, organ failure before slipping into a coma and dying.

Attorneys for the doctors argued they were not at fault and that the robot did not cause the punctures. Jurors believed otherwise.

"They believed they used this DaVinci surgical equipment appropriately, and these are some pretty highly qualified surgeons, and they felt this was just a post-operative complication that was very unfortunate but unrelated to the surgical technique," said David Hall, doctors' attorney.

Fernandez, who was studying to become a teacher, left behind a wife and young son.

"He devoted an enormous amount of time to his church," said Ted Jennings, Fernandez family attorney. "The testimony from friends and family was that Juan's life was his wife and his then 6-year-old son and that they were inseparable."

The close-knit Peruvian family was devastated by Fernandez's death. Their attorneys say they filed the lawsuit hoping learn what went wrong.

"It's a hollow victory for the family because obviously they're never going to have their father and their husband back. But justice was done," said Jennings.

The attorney for the doctors tell ABC7 the case was a very complicated. The trial lasted three weeks. He believes the jury did its best, but he disagrees with their conclusion.

Because of an agreement at the end of the trial the doctors are not expected to appeal the verdict.

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