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Da Vinci Robot Surgical Errors

Atlanta Defective Medical Device Lawyers Helping Patients Injured During Surgery

The da Vinci Robot console has revolutionized complex surgeries in the abdomen. Because of its popularity, more surgeons are using the console even for routine procedures. Nevertheless, many patients have complained that they are being injured by the device, leaving them badly burned or scarred.

If you have suffered injuries after receiving treatment with a da Vinci surgical system, you might be entitled to compensation. Reach out to a Georgia defective medical device attorney at Slappey & Sadd by calling 404.255.6677.

What is the da Vinci Robot?

The da Vinci robot is a system that consists of three or four robotic arms controlled by a console. Each arm will hold tools or objects needed for the surgery, such as scissors or scalpels. The surgeon controls the surgery from the console. However, the system also has certain redundancies built in that are supposed to minimize human error.

Doctors use the robot for laparoscopy, which is typically surgery in the abdomen. The challenge with laparoscopy is that the surgeon cannot see what they are operating on. Instead, an assistant will insert a camera, which projects a 2D image on a screen, and by looking at the screen, the surgeon will perform the operation.

With conventional laparoscopy, surgeons also operate standing, while the operator of the da Vinci is seated. In short, the da Vinci system should increase the dexterity of the surgeon as well as her vision and endurance, leading to better surgical outcomes—at least in theory.

What Injuries Have Been Reported?

The manufacturer, Intuitive Surgical, has posted on its website a list of complications that can occur during surgery. Many of these negative outcomes or complications can arise in any surgery, such as:

  • Blood loss
  • Accidental tears or punctures
  • Loss of needles or other instruments
  • Anesthesia risks, such as blocked lung artery or blood clotting
  • Positioning injuries, such a neurological or soft-tissue injuries
  • Infection
  • Muscle breakdown leading to kidney failure
  • Blocked intestine or bowel

However, the manufacturer has also reported some complications that are specific to the da Vinci robot, such as:

  • Longer operative times
  • Longer anesthesia times
  • Robotic malfunction

If the system malfunctions, then surgery can be prolonged or the patient could suffer additional injuries. This increases the risks that something could go wrong with the surgery itself or with more time spent under anesthesia.

Robotic Surgery Linked to Deaths

The manufacturer’s website is vague about the problems and complications that can occur if you are operated on using the da Vinci robot. However, the Federal Drug Administration has created an online database that lists problems with medical devices. This database contains thousands of incidents related to robotic surgery, including the da Vinci robot.

In particular, between 2000 and 2013, the following have been reported:

  • 144 deaths
  • 1,391 injuries
  • 8,061 device malfunctions

Among the problems were:

  • Instruments falling off the robot and into patients, causing injuries
  • Electrical arcing of instruments
  • Unintended operations
  • Video or imaging problems

Of course, surgeons made plenty of errors during this period, even without the use of robotics. No surgery is 100% safe. However, some studies have suggested that robotic-assisted surgery results in more complications than surgery performed only by humans.

For example, a 2014 study analyzed complications resulting from adnexal surgery to the fallopian tubes, ovary, or ovarian cysts. The study found that robotics-assisted surgery had a complications rate of around 7%. By contrast, surgeries without the use of robotics had a complication rate of only 6%. This study raises legitimate questions that robotically-assisted surgery has introduced more complications.

Nevertheless, other studies have found that robotically-assisted surgeries result in fewer deaths and injuries, and less time needed to stay in the hospital.

Examples of Surgical Errors

Below are just a few of the examples of what can go wrong during robotics surgery:

  • A man undergoing inguinal hernia repair suffered a nicked intestine in March 2017. This injury was not discovered for two days after the patient’s release from the hospital. He ended up returning to the hospital with abdominal pain but died that day.
  • A New York man suffered a perforated colon during prostate surgery.
  • A woman having a hysterectomy and her ovaries removed was burned when the machine cut too much tissue. She ended up with burns on her sigmoid colon and fallopian tube.
  • A patient undergoing gallbladder surgery in 2016 ended up suffering liver damage when the robotic arm moved on its own.
  • In 2018, a man died after heart surgery. The surgeon had not been trained in how to use the robot.

The key takeaway: robotic machines are not perfect. In fact, they can sometimes cause devastating injuries, even death, for reasons that are not entirely known. Although the robotics industry has an incentive to blame doctors for user error, it might also be the case that the da Vinci system has bugs in it that cause it to injury patients.

Who is Responsible for Robotic Surgical Errors?

Because a surgeon controls the device, in some situations the surgeon is still responsible for errors. The da Vinci robot does not operate itself, so human mistakes can lead to injuries and possibly death.

However, it could also be true that the device itself is defective. If so, then the manufacturer can be held legally liable for any injuries.

In Georgia, manufacturers are accountable when their defective products injure people. Products liability law is complicated and high-stakes, especially when powerful manufacturers find themselves as defendants in lawsuits.

These cases are also complex because it is not always apparent what is wrong with the device. To convince a jury that the da Vinci robot was defective, you typically will need expert witness testimony. Someone familiar with robotics can look at the machine and find a defect in its design or in how it was put together.

Contact a Georgia Products Liability Lawyer Today

At Slappey & Sadd, we have built our reputation handling cutting-edge products liability lawsuits. We have the resources and skill necessary to work with world-renowned expert witnesses to present compelling cases to juries around the state.

Contact us today. We offer a free initial consultation, where you can discuss how you were injured. Call 404.255.6677 or fill out this contact form. Georgia law gives victims a limited amount of time to sue, so please do not delay calling us. We serve all of Georgia, including Walton County and Walker County.

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