If a surgeon or nurse harms you during an operation, you have a good idea of who may be held responsible for your injuries and losses.  But what happens if you are injured by a surgical robot? Such an incident will likely leave you asking – “Can I sue a hospital for negligence after a robotic surgery error?” Who is responsible for injuries caused by technology?

Let’s take a look at advances in technology and what it could mean for patients.  For more information about medical malpractice and advancing technology, or to learn more about a robotic surgery error lawsuit, browse our website, or contact Brown & Brothers to speak with one of our attorneys.

Advances in Medical Technology

Advances in technology, and specifically artificial intelligence, offer a great deal of promise to the medical industry.  Robots are objective, neutral, detailed, and are not capable of human errors.  Currently, numerous hospitals use robots to assist surgeons in completing operations.  But as technology advances, the future may include robots capable of performing operations better than trained surgeons.

At John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford, England, an artificial intelligence (AI) system has been tested on cardiology patients.  Preliminary results suggest that the AI is capable of meeting or exceeding performance of cardiologists in identification of heart attack risk based on chest scans.  Results of the test are pending, but could result in the AI systems being offered in hospitals throughout the United Kingdom (UK).

Other AI systems being tested include one designed to diagnose skin cancer.  Another is designed to identify an eye condition that is responsible for around 10 percent of childhood vision loss around the world.  And yet another system can recognize certain lung cancers.

As great as these advances seem, we know that sometimes technology makes mistakes.  Hardware may breakdown, software may be corrupted, or there may be errors in how the systems are programmed or maintained.  So, who is responsible for ensuring safety, and who is liable if a robotic surgery error occurs?

robotic surgery error

Who is Liable for Medical Technology in Hospitals?

The issue of liability in terms of medical technology like AI is significant.  This will continue to be so, and more so, as technology continues to advance.  Currently, AI systems are used in hospitals as what are known as “decision aides”.  These systems are (in legal terms) designed to be a complement to doctor or specialist opinion – not a replacement.  The AI systems can help challenge medical decisions, but they are not designed to supplant knowledge and training.

In terms of liability, we know that hospitals are liable for errors caused by their staff.  But AI systems aren’t really staff members.  So who is liable? Let’s take a look at a couple of scenarios:

  1. Let’s consider that an AI system is tasked with making a diagnosis and ordering treatment for a bacterial infection. Based on what is known about the patient, the AI prescribes an antibiotic.  It turns out that the patient is allergic to that antibiotic, but that was not in their medical records.  It may be established that the AI acted within the medical standard of care, as it could not have known about the allergy, just as a human doctor could not have known about it.
  2. Another scenario is that the AI system has a defect, such as a programming or mechanical error. Like manufacturers of a product, the programmer of an AI system may be liable for improper or negligent programming.  The individual(s) responsible for monitoring and maintaining the AI system and associated algorithm may also be liable for failures to recognize or correct issues.

Both of these scenarios highlight the fact that robots and AI systems do not eliminate the human element from patient care.  Doctors and surgeons should use robotics and AI as tools to aide in medicine, rather than a fool-proof alternative to traditional medical tactics.

Because robots and AI are considered tools, healthcare providers should use them in a way that is legal, ethical, and in line with the standards of care.  Healthcare providers who improperly use technology, or who are negligent in their use of technology are as liable for injuries as a doctor who uses a bent scalpel or who administers too much medication to a patient.

Can I Sue a Hospital for Negligence after a Robotic Surgery Error?

The short answer to the question – “can I sue a hospital for negligence after a robotic surgery error” is “yes”, but it is not really that simple.  Determining who is at fault for a medical injury is more complicated.  First, you have to establish the relationship between the healthcare provider and the patient.  Next, you have to prove that the healthcare provider was negligent.  And finally, you have to prove that said negligence caused your injury.

In the case of robots in hospitals, the trend in medical malpractice lawsuits is naming the hospital and/or the healthcare provider directly overseeing your care, as well as the manufacturer or owner of the robot.  From there, it is up to the court to decide who is at fault, and to what degree.  There have been many reported cases of robot malfunctions leading to injuries.  Many other cases are the result of a surgeon not using the robot properly.

In sum, every medical malpractice or negligence case is different.  The best way to determine who may be responsible for your injuries is to contact a medical malpractice attorney to discuss your case.  A medical malpractice attorney will carefully review your robotic surgery error case, including medical records, reports, and witnesses to determine how best to move forward with your claim.

At Brown & Brothers, we understand how confusing medical malpractice laws can be.  During this difficult time, you need the guidance and support of an attorney who cares about you and your best interests.  You can count on our experienced team to work with you through every step of the claims process.  Start today by filling out our online form to schedule a free consultation and learn more about your situation.

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