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Da Vinci Robotic Surgery Complications

Since its introduction to the medical world over 10 years ago, the da Vinci Surgical System has been hailed as a major advancement in patient care. A surgeon makes a small incision and uses the da Vinci camera and four robotic instruments to operate by remote control. Hysterectomies, prostate removal, thyroid cancer removal, and gastric bypass are among the most common procedures performed with the da Vinci System.

Though the system has benefitted many patients by offering less invasive surgical options with quicker recovery periods, a few distinct patterns of complications have also emerged. While no surgery can be made risk-free, we believe that the da Vinci System presents a number of increased risk factors to patients. These risks can be caused by design defects, inadequate surgeon education, manufacturing defects, and other problems that multiply the likelihood of patient complication.
The more prevalent complications include:

  • Surgical burns to organs and arteries
  • Tears or punctures to blood vessels, organs, and arteries
  • Sepsis
  • Excessive bleeding
  • Vaginal cuff dehiscence

Surgical burns to organs and arteries

There have been a number of cases that suggest using the da Vinci System is correlated to surgical burns. In March 2010 a 24-year-old female patient suffered severe burns to the intestines and to an artery during a hysterectomy. Her family’s lawsuit claims that a design defect in the da Vinci robot caused the machine’s electrical current to jump. This resulted in a fatal shock to healthy tissue. Additionally, the lawsuit states that the un-insulated surgical hands of the da Vinci robot contributed to the fatal injuries. The patient died two weeks after surgery.

Tears or punctures to blood vessels, organ and arteries

Because the da Vinci System separates a surgeon’s hands from the patient’s body, there is an increased risk for small tears or punctures to go unnoticed during surgery. There have been a number of fatalities and lifelong injuries due to minor nicks and scratches unknowingly inflicted by the robotic arms.

During a 2002 kidney cancer removal surgery in Tampa, the patient’s inferior vena cava and abdominal aorta were cut by the da Vinci equipment. The mistake was caught 90 minutes after the injury occurred, after the surgeons abandoned the da Vinci System for a traditional approach. The extent of the injuries was not known after the operation and the patient died the next day.


In 2009, a patient in New Hampshire had both of her ureters severed during a hysterectomy. The injury was not known during the procedure, but after surgery the patient began to experience renal failure and other kidney problems. As a result of the error, the patient had to undergo extensive repair surgeries. Additionally, she suffered lifelong damage that will require ongoing medical care.

In 2012, an Alabama couple sued the makers of the da Vinci System claiming a design defect resulted in severe ureter and bladder damage during a routine hysterectomy. The lawsuit claims that the robot went awry during the procedure thus permanently damaging the plaintiff. Additionally, the lawsuit claims that the da Vinci System is inherently dangerous due to the type of energy used during operations and the unsafe nature of monopolar energy.

Also in 2012, a Chicago man’s surviving family was awarded $7.5 million in a wrongful death case, stemming from a 2007 spleen removal surgery performed with the da Vinci System. The man’s small intestine was cut two times during the operation. The injuries were not detected and resulted in a fatal infection.

There have also been reported cases of patients suffering bowel punctures that lead to sepsis during post-operation recovery.

Vaginal cuff dehiscence

Vaginal cuff dehiscence is when the incision made to remove the cervix and uterus during a hysterectomy reopens. When this happens the small bowel protrudes through the vagina requiring additional surgery. There are cases suggesting that the use of the da Vinci system can increase the risk of vaginal cuff dehiscence and small bowel evisceration. The increased risk is thought to be created by tissue damage during electrosurgery.
Other reported injuries from the da Vinci System include:

  • Internal Bleeding
  • Fistulas (abnormal connections created between organs or vessels)
  • Death

If you have experienced an injury after a robotic surgery or procedure, including one by Intuitive Surgical’s da Vinci Surgical System, contact our medical malpractice and medical device lawyers at 1.800.553.8082, or online.

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