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Who is responsible for the failure of a surgical robot?

Advances in surgical technology over the last few decades have led to increasingly intricate procedures and diminishing margins of errors in some cases. Doctors can use gamma knives and other specialized tools to excise tiny tumors or repair individual segments of the vascular system.

There are even robots capable of handling specific surgical procedures while under the operation of a trained surgeon. These devices represent the edge of what’s possible in medicine and millions of dollars in research and development investment. Many people have touted surgical robots as the future of medicine, as they help reduce the risk of human error during surgery.

Unfortunately, robotic surgical procedures still result in injury and sometimes even death for patients. Who is responsible when something goes wrong during a robot-performed or robot-assisted surgery?

Human error is often the underlying cause

Oftentimes, when there are issues during a surgery performed or assisted by a robotic device, the issue stems from the human operating the system. Such situations would likely open the physician or the facility that employs them and owns the robot up to liability claims. Errors by a surgeon could lead to severe injury during a robotic surgical procedure and could therefore lead to very costly medical malpractice claims. Overall, the research seems to indicate that a lack of hands-on training is often one of the main contributing factors to errors by surgeons.

Manufacturer errors are an issue too

Some errors involving surgical robots occur more frequently in others, implying that there are issues with design or software that contributes to these mistakes. However, actual device malfunctions are rate, with an estimated 13 issues arising for every 10,000 procedures performed, although researchers believe that figure is an underestimate.

In scenarios where it appears that a surgeon did not make any major mistakes but rather that the device malfunctioned in some way, it could be the company that manufactured the device that is ultimately liable for the poor outcome of the procedure. The patient may need to go over records to clarify the situation. Seeking legal guidance in order to identify whether someone’s case involves a product defect issue or medical malpractice is often an important starting point for those who have been harmed due to a surgery performed by a robot.