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Lawsuit Claims Woman Burned, Killed by Surgical Robot

Doctors were using a surgical robot on a Florida woman with colon cancer when the device burned her small intestine, which was followed by more procedures and ultimately her death, WFLA-TV reports — and now her husband has filed a lawsuit against the maker of the robot.

In September 2021, Sandra Sultzer was undergoing a procedure at the Baptist Health Boca Raton Regional Hospital, the news outlet reports. Doctors were using the Da Vinci surgical robot when the device accidentally burned a hole in her small intestine.

Complications and additional follow up procedures ensued, and Sultzer passed away in February 2022. The lawsuit, filed by her husband Harvey Sultzer this month, claims that her death was a "direct and proximate result of the injuries she suffered," by the broadcaster.

Harvey is seeking damages from the maker of the surgical robot, Intuitive Surgical, Inc., which has received scrutiny from the Federal Drug Administration in the past for injuries suffered during operations involving the robot.

WFLA-TV reports that FDA investigated previous reports that the robot device had cracks in a "small rubber sleeve" on a metallic piece that "would allow the electricity to escape, causing internal burns."

In the lawsuit, WFLA-TV reports, Sandra Sultzer did not know there were more complications with robot-assisted surgeries compared to procedures with a "traditional laparoscopic instrument and made her more prone to burning."

Robot-assisted surgery has started making inroads into operating rooms because they hold the promise for more precise, intricate work and the ability to do minimally-invasive surgery inside a patient's body instead of making a large cut. But like any device, surgical robots can malfunction for a variety of reasons.

More on robot surgery: Surgical Robot Could Perform Surgeries by Itself on Space Station