Robot Surgeries Lead to Multiple Lawsuits

Stephen M. Smith
Last Updated:
November 26, 2019

Robot surgeries have changed the face of medicine, allowing patients to undergo quicker and less invasive operations.

However, worrying questions remain about these surgeries after some patients alleged they sustained serious injuries like burns. Robotic surgeries are even linked to deaths.

Many of the patients brought lawsuits over the da Vinci surgical robot, a device approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2000.

At the Smith Law Center, our attorneys have years of experience in complicated product liability cases as well as hospital negligence lawsuits.

What is the Da Vinci Robot?

The da Vinci robot offers the promise of minimally invasive surgery. This means patients recover more quickly from operations. The robots allow surgeons to perform operations by making a few small incisions in the patient. Silicon Valley’s Intuitive Surgical manufactures the da Vinci robot.

Surgeons operate the system via foot pedals, joysticks, and a 3-D viewer.  The da Vinci robot has a monitor that lets surgeons see inside patients, and a steady robotic arm allowing for more precision. Surgeries using the da Vinci robot are associated with faster recovery times for the patient.

What are the Risks of the Da Vinci Robot?

While the da Vinci robot appears to deliver minimally invasive surgery, some people who underwent operations claimed it left them injured.

NBC News highlighted the case of Laurie Featherstone from Iowa in 2018. Featherstone said before she was due to have a hysterectomy in March 2015 her doctor asked her if she would consider having a robot conduct the procedure.

Featherstone said she wanted the operation because of fibroids in her uterus. Complications emerged a few weeks after the procedure involving the Da Vinci robot.

The woman experienced excess fluids in her kidneys. She suffered an ailment called hydronephrosis. One of her ureters was damaged. The doctors said the robotic hysterectomy caused the injury.

The procedure burned Featherstone’s ureter and damaged her colon. Doctors said she required a permanent colostomy.

Featherstone filed a lawsuit but withdrew it when she ran up against her state’s Statute of Limitations.

This was not an isolated incident. NBC analyzed adverse effects associated with robotic surgery.  A U.S. Food and Drug Administration study revealed robotic surgeries caused 20,000 adverse events. Most of them were filed by Intuitive Surgical, the maker of the da Vinci robot.

Despite the findings, more and more women use the Da Vinci robot for hysterectomies and more hospitals are adopting robotic technologies.

As well as hysterectomies, surgeons use robotic systems to perform other surgeries including urology procedures, heart surgeries, and urology procedures.

NBC News reported an increase in the number of surgeries using da Vinci robots by 52 percent since 2013. Surgeries rose to nearly 700,000 procedures in 2017.

Over 2,000 adverse events involved injuries and 274 were categorized as deaths, the report revealed.

What Are the Most Common Injuries Associated with the Da Vinci Robot?

Lawsuits brought against Intuitive Surgical claim the following injuries and complications:

  • Burns to organs;
  • Punctures or cut ureters;
  • Perforations or tears to organs;
  • Injuries to the bowel or the bladder.

Surgeon inexperience appears to be another factor in da Vinci robot injuries.  Using the new robotic system requires a surgeon to become comfortable with new controls. Some lawsuits claimed surgeons received insufficient training for the robotic systems.

Device malfunction has also been cited in lawsuits.  Some injuries were linked to the da Vinci EndoWrist Monopolar Curved Scissors. Invisible cracks in the device caused internal burns to the patient. This accessory was later withdrawn from the market.

Lawsuits against Intuitive claim that the da Vinci robot suffered from design defects. Other lawsuits alleged medical malpractice. While some injures are linked to alleged da Vinci design defects or manufacturing defects injuries may have been caused by doctors who failed to use the equipment properly or received inadequate training to use this complicated robot.

Contact a Virginia Injury Lawyer if You Were Injured by Robotic Surgery

Increasing numbers of hospitals in Virginia and elsewhere use robot surgery for procedures. However, the large number of reported injuries suggests a range of problems with the new technology. Robotic surgery is linked to hundreds of injuries and some deaths.

If you or a family member has been injured during robot surgery, please call our trial lawyers today at (757) 244-7000.

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