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How Do Medical Malpractice Claims Work When it Comes to Robotic Surgery?

Surgical procedures have come a long way over the past few decades. Surgical scars are getting smaller and patients are walking out of surgery the same day as their procedures. However, there is always a risk of serious injury or death when undergoing a surgical procedure. One of the major advances in surgery is the use of robotics. However, robotic surgery does not avoid the risks of injury but it may make it more complicated if it involves medical malpractice. 

There are many types of computer-assisted surgical systems and robotically assisted surgical devices (RASDs). These systems enable a doctor or surgeon to control tiny surgical instruments through the patient’s body through a small incision, for minimally invasive surgery. There are several benefits to robotic surgery but any surgery comes with a risk.

If you were injured during robotic surgery, you may not know who was responsible for your injuries. Was it the fault of the surgeon or a technological glitch? Contact our experienced medical malpractice law firm for a free consultation. Contact our office today online or by phone at 800-529-6162.  

What Is Robotic Surgery?

Robotic surgery involves using technology to assist a doctor in performing surgical operations. The term “robotic surgery” can be misleading. At least for now, robotic surgery does not involve an autonomous machine making surgical decisions. Instead, machinery and technology are used to assist a human surgeon in performing medical procedures. This generally involves a surgeon using a console, cameras, or remotely operated devices to assist in surgical procedures. 

For example, a common robotic surgery company claims “the da Vinci system translates your surgeon’s hand movements at the console in real time, bending and rotating the instruments while performing the procedure. The tiny wristed instruments move like a human hand, but with a greater range of motion.”

RAS devices may be made up of a number of parts, including: 

  • Surgeon console: The console where the surgeon operates, controlling the instruments and viewing the patient’s anatomy through a remote camera. 
  • Bedside cart: Positioned next to the patient, the cart holds the camera and surgical instruments that the surgeon is operating through the console. 
  • Vision cart: Support components and technology (hardware and software) that facilitate communication and data transfer between the remote robotics and the console. This may include the electrosurgical unit (ESU), suction and irrigation pumps, and endoscope light source. 

These devices often involve a remote camera operating system, to allow the surgeon to see inside the patient’s body, often with a smaller camera that can get inside the body without having to open up a larger incision. With a view inside the patient’s body, the robotics can be used to target areas of concern, including treatment of blockage, tumors, or clots. 

Most Common Robotic Surgery Procedures

As robotics continue to advance, they are more commonly used in invasive surgery. Robotics can help doctors operate in difficult situations where using a traditional scalpel would be too large or too dangerous. RAS devices are often used in laparoscopic surgical procedures. Some common robotic surgery procedures include: 

Who Is In Charge During Robotic Surgery?

Robotics are used during surgery but that does not mean that the robot is responsible for the surgery. Someone is in charge during robotic surgery. There may be multiple doctors, surgeons, nurses, and other health care workers involved in a robotic surgery. Generally, there is a primary surgeon who is the head of a surgical procedure. This surgeon may be the head of surgery during the procedure but there may be multiple people “in charge” during the surgery. People who may be responsible during a robotic surgery can involve the robot manufacturers, surgeons, anesthesiologists, nurses, and post-op healthcare workers. 

Injuries Caused by Defective Robotic-Assisted Surgery Devices

Medical devices can be defective and end up causing serious pain, injury, or death. There may be various types of medical devices involved in a robotic-assisted surgery, including traditional surgical devices as well as advanced electronics. Medical devices can be very profitable and there are many companies that develop, design, research, and manufacture advanced robotic surgery devices for use in hospitals around the world. Robotic surgery companies include: 

  • Intuitive Surgical (including daVinci robotic system)
  • Hansen Medical 
  • Medrobotics
  • CMR Surgical Limited
  • Stryker
  • Corindus Vascular Robotics
  • Verb Surgical
  • Zimmer Biomet Robotics
  • Accuray
  • Mazor Robotics

Robotic surgery device manufacturers may try and avoid liability by claiming that the robots don’t perform the surgery. However, just because a surgeon is using equipment to guide the robotic devices does not mean that the manufacturer is innocent. In defective device claims, a manufacturer or distributor can be liable for injuries caused by: 

  • Defective designs
  • Defective manufacturing
  • Marketing defects

In a design defect product liability claim, there is a problem with the way a product is designed that presents a danger to the user. For example, a defective medical product design may involve a device that corrodes over time while in the patient’s body, breaking down and causing pain, injury, or infection. When a surgical device has a design defect, the injury victim may be able to file a claim against the manufacturer, distributor, or product designer to recover damages. 

In a manufacturing defect, there is a problem in the way the product is being made. A manufacturing defect may involve using inferior materials instead of what was intended, lack of quality control, or an unsterile environment. For example, if a medical device is supposed to be implanted in a patient during robotic surgery, the device should be sterile. If there was a contamination hazard when the device was made, it could be contaminated with bacteria or fungus that could infect the patient. 

A marketing defect or failure to warn defect has to do with what information is available to the consumer or user. The way the product was labeled, advertised, or marketed could fail to give users the proper warnings and information they need to use the product safely. For example, if a knee implant had a lot of side effects and risks that were not disclosed to the patient, and the patient later developed one of the health complications that were kept from the consumer, the company may be liable for injuries caused by defective medical devices. 

If a medical injury was caused by a problem with the robotic machinery, software, or equipment, the doctors and hospitals will try to avoid any responsibility for the errors. You may be able to take your product liability claim to the manufacturer or supplier of the machinery. However, the hospital and doctor may share in liability for dangerous accidents. 

Robotic Surgery Errors By the Surgeon

Even though robotic surgery makes it sound like robots are conducting the surgery, there is generally a surgeon who is operating the robot to conduct the procedure. The doctor may be manually manipulating a robot arm, cutting blade, or other robotic device. Like in a hands-on surgery, a surgeon could make a mistake during the procedure that causes serious injury or harm to the patient. 

For example, a “wrong-site surgery” involves operating on the wrong area of the patient. If a patient needs to have their right kidney removed but the doctor mistakenly removes the left kidney, this is known as a wrong-site surgical error. Although these types of events are never supposed to happen, they are more common than you might imagine. If the doctor operated on the wrong surgical site using robotic machinery, it would not be the machine’s fault that the surgeon or hospital made such a serious error as a wrong-site injury. 

A doctor could make a surgical error that causes serious injury or harm to the patient, even while using robotic surgical equipment. Types of robotic surgical errors could include: 

Hospital Liability for Robotic Surgery Injuries

There are many ways the hospital may share in responsibility for the robotic surgery injury. After all, the hospital was likely the party responsible for selecting, buying, maintaining, and storing the robotic equipment. Any negligence by the hospital in using robotic surgery may make the hospital partly responsible for any injuries caused during these procedures. 

Robotic equipment has a lot of sensitive equipment and has to be properly maintained, calibrated, cleaned, and stored. The hospital may be responsible for making sure the equipment in the hospital is maintained in safe and working order. The hospital may be responsible for failure to properly maintain or sanitize the equipment. If a robotic surgery error was caused by the hospital’s failures, the hospital may have to compensate you for your injuries. 

The hospital may have also been aware of other problems with the robotics prior to your accident, and should have had prior knowledge of the risks. For example, if a robotic camera had connection errors that caused a bowel perforation in a prior surgery, the hospital should not re-use the equipment until the problems are corrected. Talk to your medical malpractice attorney about who may be liable for your injuries. 

Improper Training and Supervision

Many robotic-assisted surgical devices are cutting-edge technology and doctors need to have the right training and experience to be able to operate the devices safely and properly. This may require ongoing education and training as the robotic surgery systems continue to evolve. It is important for doctors to make sure they are properly trained before going into surgery. Lack of proper training and supervision could result in dangerous errors. Physicians, hospitals, and facilities should make sure their surgeons are properly trained and have the necessary credentials to use the specific robotic surgical device. Hospitals should also make sure surgical staff understand how to sterilize, store, and maintain the supporting equipment. 

Finding Out About a Mistake When Under Anesthesia

Unfortunately for many patients, they never know about an error made by doctors because they are under the effects of anesthesia at the time the problem occurs. A patient may not know about any complications for hours, days, or even years after the surgery. For example, if a doctor left behind a foreign object in the patient’s body, the patient may suffer pain, infection, and physical injury for months before the source of the problem is discovered. 

If there is a problem after your surgery, talk to an experienced medical malpractice attorney to understand if your injury was just a complication of surgery or if it may have been caused by malpractice. You do not need to be 100% sure of the cause of your injury before talking to an attorney. Your lawyer will be able to investigate your medical injury and determine who is responsible for damages. 

How Do You File a Medical Malpractice Claim Involving Robotic Surgery?

A medical malpractice claim involving robotic surgery may seem complicated. However, the process of filing a malpractice claim can be left up to your experienced attorney. After a surgical error, you have enough to deal with after recovery, continuing medical treatment, and getting back to work, if you are able. Your attorney can make sure your case is filed on time, in the right court, and names all the potential defendants who may have been responsible for your injuries. 

A medical malpractice claim begins with filing a complaint in court. However, your attorney may need time before the claim is filed to review your medical records, consult with a medical expert, and identify the parties involved in treatment. Make sure you talk to an attorney sooner rather than later because filing your claim too late may mean that you miss out on any chance to recover damages. 

Medical Malpractice Attorneys Who Understand Robotic Surgery

At Gilman & Bedigian, our experienced trial lawyers have helped our clients and their loved ones recover millions of dollars in compensation after surgical error. We have years of medical malpractice experience serving injury victims and their families. Contact us online or call our law office at (800) 529-6162 for a free consultation.

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