During product development, it’s not unusual to discover certain failure points in a surgical robot’s design. For example, certain components, like nuts or bolts or screws, may become brittle when exposed to various substances or gasses commonly found in operating rooms. Similarly, prolonged use may cause cables and wires to become overstressed. Such component degradation may result in unwanted changes in the robot’s movement patterns or even complete structural failure. Issues like these, if not immediately addressed during product development, can become low-hanging fruit for plaintiffs’ lawyers.
Continue Reading Defeat Design Defect Claims Before They’re Filed

Until they become fully autonomous, surgical robots will only be as good as their human operators. Training for all surgeons, nurses, bedside assistants, and other surgical team members is critical to ensuring optimal patient outcomes. Thus, many manufacturers ask surgical staff to undergo instruction and demonstrations on how to set up, handle, and operate their systems. Such training can span several days and often includes simulations, scenario role-playing, and hands-on time with the robot. But what should a robot manufacturer do when asked by healthcare providers to modify its training curriculum and change certain important elements like course length, course content, or attendee roles and numbers?
Continue Reading Mitigating The Risks Of Training Curriculum Modification Requests

Recently, an artificial intelligence-guided robot successfully performed a laparoscopic surgery to connect two ends of an intestine in four pigs, without any human intervention. And according to the researchers involved, the robot surgeon produced “significantly better” results than humans. Though such an accomplishment is astonishing and signals the inevitable rise of fully autonomous medical robots, it is important to remember that the results generated by artificial intelligence are only as good as the information used to train it.
Continue Reading The Risk of Clinical Data Collection Biases In Fully Autonomous Medical Robots

It’s no secret that defending against product liability lawsuits can be costly. But surgical robot manufacturers sometimes ask me to give them hard numbers. To read the tea leaves and estimate how much they’ll have to spend to resolve such claims. Unfortunately, the answer is hard to swallow.
Continue Reading Surgical Robots Risk Greater Legal Costs Than You May Think

Recently, my colleagues Colin Kelly, Caroline Gieser, Michael Polatsek, and I thought about the role that additive manufacturing (3D-printing) is playing in today’s brave new world.  As COVID-19 continues to cause critical manufacturing shortages while also increasing demand for emergency medical and protective equipment, the government and private industry are coming together with the help of 3D-printing technology to tackle both problems simultaneously. Manufacturers large and small are arming themselves with 3D-printing to produce much-needed medical and protective products that are in high demand but short supply. The list of critical COVID-19-related products being manufactured through 3D-printing include nasal swabs, ventilators, face shields, gowns, masks and even respirators. Yet additive manufacturing is still a relatively new process and certain technical and practical limitations remain. Indeed, as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) noted in a March 26, 2020, communication, “3D-printed PPE are unlikely to provide the same fluid barrier and air filtration protection as FDA-cleared surgical masks and N95 respirators.”

Up until very recently, discussions about the risks associated with 3D-printing have been mostly hypotheticals reserved for academics and product liability lawyers, but COVID-19 has now raised the question: Will well-intentioned additive manufacturers (large and small) face personal injury claims for helping address COVID-19-related spikes in demand for medical and protective equipment?
Continue Reading COVID-19: Will 3-D Printing Medical Supplies and Protective Products Expose You to Liability?

Last week, the FDA issued a warning against the use of robotic surgery for mastectomy and other cancer-related procedures.  The warning stated, in relevant part, “To date, the FDA has not granted marketing authorization for any robotically-assisted surgical device for use in the United States for the prevention or treatment of cancer, including breast cancer.” The warning went on to say, “Be aware that the safety and effectiveness of using robotically-assisted surgical devices in mastectomy procedures or in the prevention or treatment of cancer has not been established.”  This action came after the Agency reviewed certain literature suggesting that robotically assisted devices were being used “off-label” in cancer treatment.  Incidents like this raise a very important question: How can a company avoid or minimize liability in the event of off-label use?
Continue Reading The FDA’s Latest Warning: A Good Reminder Regarding the Litigation Risks of Off-Label Use

Over the last decade, robotics have revolutionized healthcare. Surgical robots are rapidly making their way into many of our nation’s operating rooms, and are being used in a wide variety of surgeries ranging from gynecological to ocular procedures.  Their popularity stems not only from their relative ease of use, but also from their potential for improved patient outcomes and decreased recovery time.

As with any device or product, however, surgical robots and the companies that make them have not been immune from product liability lawsuits. 
Continue Reading Emerging Trends in Surgical Robotics Product Liability Litigation

Recently, my colleague Amy Foust made some really good points about a subject that is rarely discussed.  Over the years, a number of patients have claimed that they were injured by surgical robots defective by design or manufacture.  A recent study from Johns Hopkins University may now allow some to argue that surgical robots are also injuring surgeons. 
Continue Reading Can Robot-Assisted Surgery Be a Pain?