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“I was injured by a robot, can you sue a robot?”

I’m Katelyn Holub, an attorney focusing on personal injury law in northwest Indiana.

Welcome to Personal Injury Primer, where we break down the law into simple terms, provide legal tips, and discuss topics related to personal injury law.

Today’s question comes from a caller who reported that a surgery did not go well, and required several follow-up surgeries, to fix what appeared to be robot related injuries, and she wanted to know if she could sue if she was injured by a robot?

We have all watched science fiction movies featuring robots. Maybe the cute robots in Star Wars come to mind? I am sure everyone would love to have an R2D2 robot to make life easier.

Today robots are routinely used in surgeries, and it is not science fiction.

So, here is the question: What if a surgical robot injures you? Can you sue a robot?

Maybe a simpler question to answer first is can you sue a surgical glove or a scalpel?

Certainly, you can sue the manufacturer or seller if they make or sell products that are defective and you have proof that the manufacturer failed to use care and made a defective product. So, if a scalpel is supposed to be sterile, but instead is coated with a dangerous cleaning chemical, yes you could sue. Same if a glove had a hole in it.

A robotic device used in surgery very well could be defective, just like a surgical glove might have a hole in it, cause a break in the sterile surgical environment, and lead to an infection. But, the maker of the robot may try to blame the doctor or surgeon using the device, arguing that the robot functioned perfectly and the doctor is the one who made the mistake. In such cases, the only option may be to sue both the doctor and the robot- maker and let those two point the finger at each other in court.

A well-known robot brand that has had recalls is Da Vinci. One recall was due to hot shears, really curved scissors, leaking stray electricity that could cause thermal burns to nearby organs and other tissue.

Why is this an issue? Because robots run on electrical current and if the electricity loses containment it can of course result in burns to nearby organs and tissue.

Is it possible, if a person reports a poor outcome after a robot surgery, that the robot functioned correctly, and the doctor simply misused the robot and that the doctor caused an injury? Of course, whatever caused the injury could be a problem with the robot or the person using the robot. Or, it could be a situation where both the robot and the human surgeon malfunctioned, or made mistakes, and jointly caused harm to the patient.

Here are the most commonly noted robotic injuries occurring in surgery according to the FDA: burns, tears of the intestines, punctured blood vessels, injury to ureters, perforated bowels, and excessive bleeding.

If you suspect you have been injured by a robot, or a human, we suggest you call an attorney promptly.

I hope you found this information helpful. If you have questions about your legal rights if you get hurt due to the carelessness of another person, or as a result of substandard medical care, or due to a product defect, construction injury, or any other type of personal injury, please give us a call at (219) 736-9700. You can also learn more about us by visiting our website at www.DavidHolubLaw.com – while there make sure you request a copy of our book “Fighting for Truth”.