Deaths, injuries, and lawsuits involving ‘robot surgery’ on the rise

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by Michael Heygood

A jury in Cook County, Illinois recently awarded $7.5 million to the family of a 49-year-old man who died after “robot surgery” to remove his spleen. The family alleged in the lawsuit that the surgeons using the “da Vinci Robotic Surgical System” were negligent in causing holes in the duodenum, an organ located 6 to 10 inches from the spleen, resulting in the development of sepsis with multi-organ failure and brain damage. The man died in February 2007, the month following the surgery, and was survived by his wife and 11-year-old son.

“Robot surgery” is becoming more common in America’s hospitals. In robot surgery, a physician sits at a video-game style console while viewing a high definition, 3D image inside the patient’s body. The surgery is performed by interactive robotic arms directed by the doctor using the system.

The number of procedures done in the U.S. with the robots has grown to about 367,000 in 2012. More than half of last year’s total involved gynecological treatments. However, the robots also are used for prostate and gall bladder removals, as well as heart surgery.

For now, robot surgery is dominated by The Da Vinci Surgical System by Intuitive Surgical. It’s the only company whose system is cleared in the U.S. for soft tissue procedures that include general surgery, prostate operations and gynecological surgery. The company claims the system’s benefits include a better camera system, robot arms that can precisely mimic natural hand movements inside the body, and improved surgeon ergonomics to reduce fatigue. Unfortunately, robot systems made by Intuitive Surgical are linked to at least 70 deaths in informal incident reports sent to U.S. regulators since 2009, according to a review by Bloomberg News. In just over a year, at least 10 lawsuits have been filed against Intuitive Surgical.

In one of the lawsuits, the liver and spleen of a Michigan man were allegedly punctured during a heart valve repair, leading to 15 hours of internal bleeding. In another lawsuit, an Alabama man suffered damage to his rectum and bowel after prostate surgery.

Another suit alleges the robot is responsible for the death of Gilmore McCalla’s 24-year-old daughter. McCalla says he didn’t even know a robot was being used. The suit contends the robot tools didn’t have adequate insulation, which can result in electrical burns to surrounding tissue. A 2011 study in the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology, done in a laboratory, found that certain types of insulation failed on the robot at as much as four times the rate of conventional minimally-invasive surgery equipment. The study also showed that complication occurs in almost two percent of robot hysterectomies, or more than twice the rate seen in conventional, less invasive surgery.

Bloomberg News recently reviewed Food and Drug Administration records and found an adverse incident reports sent to the agency since 2009. Injury reports involving robot procedures jumped to at least 115 in 2012 from 24 in 2009. At the same time, deaths rose to 30 in 2012 from 11 in 2009.

Think you may have a medical malpractice claim?

The attorneys at Heygood, Orr & Pearson have the experience and expertise to assist injured patients with their medical malpractice claims. Our attorneys have successfully represented numerous victims of medical malpractice. Among our attorneys’ recent verdicts, settlements and results are the following:

Jim Orr negotiated a $6.75 million settlement for the family of an 8 year-old child who suffered permanent brain damage due to medical errors occurring at a VA hospital.

Michael Heygood achieved a $2.2 million jury verdict in a medical malpractice lawsuit arising from the premature discharge of a newborn infant from the hospital with low glucose levels.

Eric Pearson argued the appeal in Columbia Medical Center of Las Colinas, Inc. v. Hogue, 271 S.W.3d 238 (Tex. 2009), in which the Texas Supreme Court upheld a gross negligence finding against the defendant hospital in a medical malpractice case and affirmed the jury’s $9 million verdict on behalf of his clients.

At Heygood, Orr & Pearson, we have the knowledge, experience and financial resources necessary to prosecute even the most complex medical negligence case. If you believe you or a loved one has suffered as a result of medical malpractice, please contact us or a free consultation to discuss your legal rights and options.