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Lawsuit Filed Over Death Associated with Robotic Surgical Device

A Florida woman died after being burned by a robotic device while undergoing colon cancer surgery, according to a new federal lawsuit. The suit alleges that a robotic device tore Sandra Sultzer’s small intestine during surgery, leading to complications that eventually resulted in her death. Her widower, Harvey Sultzer, is seeking damages from the manufacturer of the device, Intuitive Surgical. The lawsuit says that the Intuitive Surgical da Vinci surgical robot used during Sandra’s September 2021 surgery had insulation problems that caused electricity to burn her. Intuitive Surgical has not yet responded to the lawsuit, per NBC News.

The FDA cleared the da Vinci Surgical System in 2000 for use in surgical procedures. According to its website, the robotic devices are designed to help hospitals increase the efficiency of minimally invasive surgeries. Intuitive Surgical boasts that its da Vinci Xi system is the world’s most commonly used multiport robotic surgery system. Its single-port device allows physicians to “perform procedures with a range of complexity.” But Harvey Sultzer says that the manufacturer failed to warn the public about the potential risks of the system. This isn’t the first time Intuitive Surgical has been scrutinized for its surgical systems. A 2018 NBC News investigation found more than 20,000 adverse events related to Intuitive Surgical Inc. products over a 10-year period, including 274 deaths. The investigation also found that Intuitive Surgical consolidated multiple adverse events into one report multiple times. 

Da Vinci minimally invasive surgical robot in an operating room

The Dangers Of Robotic Surgical Devices

The benefits of da Vinci robotic surgery devices are widely touted. Robotic devices can reduce complications and speed up the healing process. However, they can also malfunction and cause serious complications. NBC News interviewed more than a dozen patients who were burned during surgeries that used the da Vinci surgical robot three years before Sandra Sultzer’s death. The Sultzer lawsuit alleges that an electrical arc from the device burned Sandra’s organ, causing a perforation that eventually led to her death. The suit also says that the manufacturer doesn’t properly train doctors on how to use its devices. NBC found that while Intuitive Surgical offers training programs, it cannot mandate that surgeons complete them.   

The lawsuit says that Intuitive Surgical is a defendant in 93 product liability lawsuits. In filings to the Securities and Exchange Commission, the manufacturer divulged that it is facing multiple lawsuits but admitted no fault. 

Lawsuits Over Defective Medical Devices

When you undergo a medical procedure, you expect a safe outcome. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case — and if you have a surgery that relies on a robotic device, you may be at a higher risk for injuries. The aftermath of surgery with complications can be overwhelming, but you should know that you may have legal options to pursue. No procedure is completely risk-free, and you assume that there’s a possibility for complications when you agree to surgery. But if you can show that a manufacturer knew or should have known about a medical device’s potential dangers and didn’t warn the public, you might have grounds for a lawsuit.  

Hold Parties Accountable

Defective medical devices can ruin lives, causing irreversible injuries or death. Manufacturers have a duty to distribute safe products to the market and should be held accountable for their negligence when they fail to do so. A lawsuit allows injured parties an opportunity to make a manufacturer answer for their error, and it also alerts the public to the potential danger.

Compensate Victims

Treating injuries caused by a defective medical device can quickly become costly, and a lawsuit can allow injured parties to access much-needed compensation to pay for medical expenses. Along with tangible costs like medical bills, a lawsuit can provide damages for non-economic losses like pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, and emotional distress. Additionally, the payout from a lawsuit can help pay for funeral expenses and other costs if someone dies due to a defective medical device. 

Prevent Future Injuries

The manufacturers of defective medical devices often pay millions of dollars in lawsuit settlements. This can serve as a powerful warning to any manufacturer tempted to not perform due diligence on its products. The potential public relations fallout and financial strain that a lawsuit can bring motivates manufacturers to follow safety standards, which can help prevent people from being injured in the future. 

If you or a loved one suffered injuries after a surgery that utilized the Intuitive Surgical da Vinci surgical robot or a similar system, you should contact a product liability attorney who specializes in defective medical devices to discuss your legal options. You might be able to recover damages for your losses and seek justice for the pain that you’ve suffered.