Da Vinci Surgical Robot Wrongful Death Lawsuit Filed After Fatal Small Intestine Burns

The lawsuit indicates there are insulation problems with da Vinci surgical robots, which increase the risk of burns to internal organs.

A Florida man has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the makers of the da Vinci surgical robot, after a botched robotic surgery caused his wife to suffer fatal burn injuries to her small intestines.

The complaint (PDF) was brought by Harvey Sultzer, on behalf of himself and his late wife, Sandra, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida on February 6. The only named defendant in the claim is the manufacturer of the surgical robot, Intuitive Surgical, Inc., which has faced a number of similar lawsuits over daVinci robot burns in the past.

The da Vinci surgical robot is a complex surgical device, which features a number of remotely controlled arms that are used to perform a variety of different urologic, gynecologic and other laparoscopic surgical procedures, to provide a minimally invasive surgery. The robot’s arms are controlled by a surgeon through the use of hand and foot controls, while sitting at a console that provides a virtual reality representation of the patients internal organs.

While the device is found in many hospitals nationwide, a number of da Vinci robotic surgery risks have surfaced over the past decade, including thermal burn injuries to organs, lacerations and other surgical complications.

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According to the lawsuit, Sandra Sultzer underwent a surgical procedure involving the da Vinci surgical robot in September 2021 for the treatment of colon cancer. However, during the procedure she experienced a thermal injury to her small intestine, which caused a bowel perforation.

Sultzer suffered abdominal pain and fevers, and had to undergo numerous medical procedures, including closing of the perforation, following the da Vinci surgical robot burn injury, her husband states.

The lawsuit blames the injuries on the design of the da Vinci robot, which Sultzer and past plaintiffs have said lacks sufficient insulation, resulting in a high risk of burns to internal organs.

“Mrs. Sultzer ultimately died in February of 2022 as a direct and proximate result of the injuries she suffered during the September 2021 da Vinci surgery,” the lawsuit states. “Prior to consenting to the da Vinci surgery and because of ISI’s inadequate disclosures, Mrs. Sultzer was not aware that the instruments to be used for the surgery had insulation problems that made them more prone to causing unintended burn than traditional laparoscopic instruments.”

da Vinci Surgical Robot Lawsuits

Intuitive Surgical has previously faced hundreds of da Vinci robotic surgery lawsuits filed by individuals who experienced complications during procedures, many involving allegations that the manufacturer sold a dangerous and defective device, failed to adequately train surgeons and failed to provide adequate warnings for patients about the risk of problems. The manufacturer has also faced a shareholder lawsuit by investors who say the company misrepresented the safety of the surgical robot.

In January 2013, a report by the investment research firm Citron Research highlighted a number of potential issues with the da Vinci robot and Intuitive Surgical’s response to those problems. Citron identified more than 4,600 adverse event reports submitted to federal health regulators at that time involving the da Vinci robot.

The analysts warned of a disturbing trend of the manufacturer making “clearly unfathomable” assertions that the complications had nothing to do with the da Vinci robot.

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