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Burns and electrocutions are some of the most serious complications of robot-assisted surgery with the Da Vinci Robotic Surgery System. Unfortunately, burns during robotic-assisted surgery can cause severe bleeding, infection, and organ damage.

The surgeon may need to perform an emergency abdominal incision to repair the damage, which can cause lasting scars and other permanent injuries. Our burn injury lawyers are concerned that some patients may not have been aware of this life-threatening risk.

UPDATE: Robot Scissors Causing Patient Burns

May 13, 2013 — Intuitive Surgical has issued an “Urgent Product Notification” to warn that the electrical scissors used to cut and cauterize tissue can have “micro-cracks” in the insulation which may allow electricity to arc and burn patients outside the surgical area. Click here to read more.

Burns from Robotic Surgery

As the popularity of the Da Vinci Surgical Robot System continues to grow, so has the number of adverse event reports involving burns and electrocutions. Robotic surgery uses surgical instruments that are controlled by a surgeon at a console. One instrument, the monopolar scissors, are used in electrosurgery. They carry an electrical charge to cut, cauterize, and coagulate tissues during surgery.

Unfortunately, physician error can accidentally electrocute and burn a patient. Burns can occur if the electrified instrument touches another robotic arm, or if the physician unintentionally fires the electrified instrument.

Another known problem is inadequate electrical insulation. This is associated with electrical arcing, in which electricity jumps from the electrified instrument to the patient’s body. Electrical burns can lead to severe injuries, including bleeding, infection, emergency abdominal surgery, prolonged recovery time, and even death.

FDA Reports of Robotic Surgery Burns

U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reports of robotic surgery burns and electrocutions include, but are not limited to the following:

  • FDA Report: During a hysterectomy in which a patient died, “The patient had sustained a burn to the right external iliac artery, pumping blood in the body cavity, causing bowel ischemia incompatible with life.”
  • FDA Report: During a prostatectomy, “… physicians assistant commented that he smelled garlic. Intra-operatively, it was immediately noticed that the monopolar scissors flamed, sparked and smoked at the joint when activated by the surgeon.”
  • FDA Report: “… sparked through the intact protective sheath of the monopolar scissors … resulted in a vessel injury. After robotic suturing and attempted clipping of the defect was unsuccessful, the patient required emergency laparotomy.”
  • FDA Report: “… caused a spark to extrude laterally through the scissors insulating plastic sheath and onto the right external iliac artery. The surface of the vessel was visibly charred.”
  • FDA Report: “It was reported that during a DaVinci prostatectomy procedure … arcing from the MCS tip cover accessory installed on the monopolar curved scissors instrument occurred causing unintentional burning.”

Studies of Robotic Surgery Burns

In August 2012, Obstetrics and Gynecology published a study that identified three cases of injury caused by robotic surgery burns. They determined that the burns were caused by electrocutions due to insulation failures on the monopolar scissors (which are used in electrosurgery).

Reports of robotic surgery burns and electrocutions included:

  • One report of a blood vessel burn that caused bleeding and required a blood transfusion and an emergency laparotomy (large incision through the abdominal wall to gain access to the abdominal cavity).
  • One report of a full-thickness blood vessel burn that was repaired robotically.
  • One report of a partial-thickness blood vessel burn that was also repaired robotically.

In conclusion, the researchers warned:

“Unintended electrosurgical arcs can occur from monopolar instruments. Insulation failure is a common finding in this type of injury.”

Complications of Robotic Burns in Surgery

  • Infection
  • Organ damage
  • Severe bleeding
  • Blood vessel damage
  • Tissue burns
  • Bowel ischemia
  • Prolonged recovery
  • Need for emergency laparotomy (large abdominal incision to access the abdominal cavity)
  • Scarring from abdominal incisions
  • Prolonged recovery time
  • Death


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