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Medical Malpractice Case Study: Joan Rivers (1933 - 2014)

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Those in the medical profession are familiar with the popular adage that states “If something can go wrong, it will go wrong, and always at the worst possible time.”

On this page the medical malpractice lawyer at The Doan Law Firm will cite the tragic death of comedienne and talk show host Joan Rivers to demonstrate how her death was unnecessary and was a direct result of medical malpractice.

Events leading to the malpractice

The following summary of events that led to Ms. River’s death, and the settlement of the medical malpractice / wrongful death lawsuit filed by her daughter Melissa, is paraphrased from multiple sources including the New York Times, USA Today, and the Associated Press.

On the morning of August 28th, 2014 Ms. Rivers arrived at Yorkville Endoscopy on Manhattan's Upper East Side to undergo a gastric endoscopy (the use of a special instrument to observe the upper GI tract) to evaluate the severity of a condition known as gastric reflux. She was accompanied by Dr. Gwen Korovin, an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialist who had treated Ms. Rivers’ laryngitis for several years and planned to perform a laryngoscopy (the insertion of a lighted, flexible tube used to visually inspect the vocal cords) while Ms. Rivers was sedated for the planned gastric endoscopy.

Dr. Korovin’s first attempt at the laryngoscopy was a failure due to what she said was poor visualization of the vocal cords. Dr. Cohen then completed the gastroscopy, after which Dr. Korovin attempted another laryngoscopy. Within minutes of the start of the second laryngoscopy, Ms. Rivers suffered a cardiac arrest but was resuscitated after about 30 minutes and she was transported to Mt. Saini Hospital.

Ms. Rivers never regained consciousness and died at on September 4, 2014. The New York City Medical Examiner’s Office later ruled that Ms. Rivers had died as a consequence of cerebral hypoxia (not enough oxygen supplied to the brain) and classified her death as a “therapeutic complication.”

The medical malpractice lawsuit

In 2015 Ms. Rivers’ daughter, Melissa, filed a wrongful death due to medical malpractice lawsuit naming Dr. Lawrence Cohen (Gastroenterologist) who, in addition to being the physician who performed Ms. Rivers’ endoscopy, was the medical director of Yorkville Endoscopy at the time; Dr. Gwen Korovin (ENT), and Dr. Renuka Bankulla (Anesthesia) as defendants.

In support of her malpractice claim, Melissa Rivers was able to produce evidence demonstrating that:

  • Dr. Korovin did not have credentials to perform procedures at Yorkville Endoscopy, a fact that was known to Yorkville Endoscopy’s medical director, Dr. Cohen.
  • Although she had signed an informed consent for her gastric endoscopy, Ms. Rivers had not signed a consent to the attempted laryngoscopy by Dr. Korovin.
  • Following the failed laryngoscopy, it was several minutes before anyone noticed that Ms. Rivers was experiencing respiratory problems and that her blood pressure and heart rate were falling but had not yet fell to a critical level.
  • When Dr. Bankulla became aware of Ms. Rivers’ deteriorating condition and alerted Dr. Cohen, Dr. Cohen’ responded that Dr. Bankulla “was being paranoid” and then proceeded with the planned endoscopy.
  • After the endoscopy was completed Dr. Korovin again attempted a laryngoscopy, but Ms. Rivers suffered a cardiac arrest. She was successfully resuscitated and then transferred to Mt. Sinai Hospital, where she died a week later.

A subsequent investigation conducted by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services confirmed that the clinic had indeed made several errors.

In addition to those errors already mentioned, it also determined that the supervising anesthesiologist failed to notice that Yorkville Endoscopy’s staff was not keeping an accurate record of the medications Ms. Rivers had received, had not recorded Ms. Rivers’ weight (a vital step in determining the correct dose of the anesthetic Propofol, the same drug implicated in the death of Michael Jackson), and did not monitor her vital signs or the amount of oxygen in her bloodstream prior to her cardiac arrest.

In May 2016 Melissa Rivers announced that the lawsuit had been settled out-of-court. The terms of the settlement were not disclosed, but Melissa stated that the defendants named in the lawsuit “… have accepted responsibility for their actions quickly and without equivocation.”

If you suspect medical malpractice, you should talk to a medical malpractice lawyer!

The Joan Rivers case has been described as the “Perfect Storm” of medical malpractice in that each error, had it occurred by itself, would probably not have led to her death. However, when the errors occurred in sequence, each subsequent error in judgement compounded the effects of the previous poor decision until cardiac arrest and brain injury made ended any hope of survival.

Medical malpractice cases are usually not as “cut and dried” as the incident described on this page. Thus, if you suspect that you or a family member have been a victim of medical malpractice, you should contact a medical malpractice lawyer to discuss your suspicions and review the legal options that may be available to you. One such lawyer is the medical malpractice lawyer at The Doan Law Firm, a nationwide medical malpractice firm with offices located in major cities throughout the country.

When you contact our firm regarding your potential medical malpractice case, your initial case review and first consultation is always free and does not obligate you to hire us to represent you in court. If you decide that you would like for us to manage your medical malpractice lawsuit, we are willing to assume full responsibility for all aspects of preparing your case for trial in exchange for a previously-agreed upon percentage of the settlement that we will win for you.

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