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The Joan Rivers Case Settles: A Lesson in Medical Malpractice

Written by Berkowitz

Doctor in HospitalIt has already been two years since the death of Joan Rivers. Her death, which was in 2014, occurred as a result of an outpatient medical procedure that went wrong. While the exact dollar amount has not yet been made public, the case was settled in May 2016. The case of Joan Rivers attracted headlines for the duration of the trial, but her case is nothing unique. In fact, thousands of Americans each year die because of preventable medical errors. It is estimated by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies that 1.5 million individuals are injured because of preventable medical errors, too.

A Refresher on Joan Rivers

In 2015, a lawsuit was filed against five physicians from the Yorkville Endoscopy group. The physicians consisted of ear, nose and throat specialists, the clinic’s director, and anesthesiologists involved in the case. Joan Rivers had entered the clinic complaining of a hoarse voice and sore throat. She was scheduled for a laryngoscopy – where they examine the vocal cords and voice box – as well as an endoscopy.

During the procedure, an anesthesiologist commented that Rivers’ swollen vocal cords could compromise her breathing, but the physician pressed on anyway. Her chords eventually closed during the procedure, which denied Rivers necessary oxygen; she went into cardiac arrest. She died several days later after being on life support with no chance of recovery.

What Lessons Did We Learn from This Case?

There were quite a few disturbing factors discovered during this investigation – and the errors and omissions found led to Rivers death. Sadly, most of these were preventable.

  1. Rivers’ ENT was not authorized to perform procedures. Rivers’ own personal physician, an ENT, did not have privileges to perform the procedure at the endoscopy center. This was a violation of the center’s own rules and policies. Also, Joan’s own gastroenterologist was performing the procedure, and he allowed the ENT to be present and even perform a biopsy on the vocal cords – which was a violation of the standard of care.
  2. The risk of laryngospasm was brought up. The anesthesiologist had told the physicians that there was a high risk of the vocal cords becoming swollen if they performed a biopsy. Once the airway becomes swollen and is not protected, there is no way for air to pass through the patient’s throat and into the lungs – leading to oxygen deprivation.
  3. Irreversible brain injury was inevitable. If a patient suffers from a lack of oxygen for an extended period of time, he or she will suffer irreversible brain damage – which is most likely why Rivers’ remained in a coma before she was disconnected from life support.
  4. How the family is affected determines the financial result of a wrongful death suit. When a patient dies from a medical error, it is important for attorneys to look at how that death financially affects surviving family members. While Joan Rivers was already 81, she was still earning a significant income and had income commitments already in place for the future. Therefore, her surviving family members were able to easily document the financial losses of her death.

Were You Injured by a Physician? Contact a Medical Malpractice Attorney

If you or a loved one was injured due to a preventable medical error or a physician’s lack of care, you could be entitled to compensation for your injuries. You will need your case assessed by a Connecticut medical malpractice attorney first. Contact Berkowitz and Hanna LLC today to schedule your no-obligation consultation. Contact us online to get started.