Robot-related injuries at the workplace

In many occupations in Minnesota and around the country, robots play an important role. In fact, from 2000 to 2013, more than 1.7 million occupational robotic procedures took place, according to a study conducted by Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Illinois.

However, the study also found that robots used in workplaces had more than 8,000 malfunctions, which resulted in about 144 workplace fatalities and roughly 1,000 injuries during that period. Complications, technical difficulties, and system errors are some of the ways robots malfunction. For instance, during surgical procedures where robots are used, a surgical instrument might break and land in a patient's body, or an electrical spark could cause a tissue burn.

It is expected that there will be more robotic-related work injuries in the future, as more companies will use robotic systems, and more claims filed. For example, in 2016 an individual filed a $30 million product liability suit against a California surgical company, claiming that the company's robotic surgical system was directly to blame for a faulty hysterectomy that left her severely injured. She was awarded a confidential settlement after only three days of jury deliberations. At the workplace, many serious and fatal robotic-related injuries occur whenever an employee stops to repair a robot that suddenly stops working. During these times, the employee may not power down the robot because he or she must get it working again, which is highly dangerous. Employees working with robots require extensive safety training.

Most workers who are injured on the job are eligible to file a claim for workers' compensation benefits. In exchange for the receipt of these benefits, they are precluded from filing a lawsuit against the employer. However, if the injury was the fault of a non-employer third party, such as the manufacturer of a defective piece of machinery, an attorney might suggest a separate lawsuit.

Source: Claims Journal, "Robo Claims: When Robots Injure Humans", Gary Wickert, May 5, 2017

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