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Family of Joan Rivers settles medical malpractice suit

When a family files a medical malpractice lawsuit against a hospital or physician, it is likely because they believe that negligence led to the death or suffering of their loved one. Famous comedienne Joan Rivers succumbed to alleged medical malpractice in 2014 at the age of 81 while undergoing fairly routine procedures. Her family filed a medical malpractice suit against the for-patient outpatient surgery center where Rivers was treated.

The family also named the ear, nose and throat specialist on the case, as well as the clinic’s medical director and multiple anesthesiologists. The director has since stepped down from his position. The suit alleged that numerous errors during the procedure caused Rivers’ death. Rivers was set to undergo a laryngoscopy and an endoscopy, which requires doctors to put the patient under anesthesia and examine their voice box and vocal cords, as well as the upper digestive system.

The main anesthesiologist had written out five pages of detailed notes on the procedure in fear of being blamed for Rivers’ death. The Rivers family found these notes to be extremely useful. The notes mentioned that the anesthesiologist was concerned about the swelling in Rivers’ vocal cords, but that the doctors dismissed her concerns. During the procedure, the anesthesiologist noticed that Ms. Rivers’ vocal cords closed and that she wasn’t breathing. The suit alleges that she did not demand a crash cart but instead looked for another physician to perform an emergency cricothyrotomy. However, that physician had already left the clinic. After a few crucial minutes passed, 911 was finally alerted, but it was too late. Ms. Rivers had already gone into cardiac arrest, and she passed away seven days later after she was taken off life support.

Rivers’ family recently reached a settlement, with the doctors on Ms. Rivers’ case accepting responsibility for her death. The amount of the settlement, which Rivers’ attorneys say is “substantial,” has yet to be revealed. The attorneys for the Rivers family say that they are keeping the amount private because they want to focus on improving patient care. Improved patient safety for future patients is one of the benefits to filling a medical malpractice lawsuit.

Source: The New York Times, “Settlement Reached in Joan Rivers Malpractice Case,” Marc Santora, May 12, 2016

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Michael J. Gaffney, Attorney at Law
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