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Wrongful Death

Rivers’ lawsuit filed against New York clinic

Alleging that Joan Rivers’ celebrity led to negligent care, Melissa Rivers filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the clinic and others involved with treating the 81-year-old comic when she died on the operating table at an Upper East Side clinic. She went into cardiac and respiratory arrest during an endoscopy procedure at the clinic on Aug. 28 and died several days later.

The suit was filed against the clinic, its medical director, the anesthesiologist and Rivers’ private physician. Melissa Rivers’ attorneys said that significant damages are being sought for her mother’s death.

According to the lawsuit, Rivers’ physician placed to send a small instrument into her windpipe to look at her vocal chords although the anesthesiologist warned that her cords were extremely swollen, could seize up and make her unable to breathe. The complaint asserts that closing the vocal chords and dropping vital signs led her death.

The clinic’s director allegedly took a cellphone picture of Ms. Rivers’ lying on the operating table when a lack of oxygen was damaging her brain. Her physician, according to the lawsuit, eventually realized that Rivers’ was suffering from an airway obstruction but did not call for a crash cart which would contain a drug that would relax her muscles and allow for insertion of a breathing tube and waited several minutes before calling for help.

The anesthesiologist sought assistance from Rivers’ physician to perform an emergency cricothyrotomy but she left the clinic because she did not have privileges there. The plaintiff also claims that the defendants provided treatment that violated medical protocol because they were impressed with her celebrity and wanted to please her such as allowing her doctor in the clinic although she did not have privileges.

There is no official determination concerning Rivers’ cause of death. Federal health investigators, however, found that the treating physicians did not realize that her vital signs were dropping. The federal government closed the clinic until March 2 to correct problems that were discovered by investigators. The anesthesiologist’s attorney said that Rivers’ claims against her are unfounded.

While families of victims of malpractice may be involved in less sensational cases, legal assistance can determine liability and protect their rights after a fatal accident. Legal advice can help protect rights in a lawsuit filed after the loss of a loved one.

Source: The New York Times, “Joan Rivers’s daughter files malpractice suit against Manhattan clinic,” Anemona Hartocollis, Jan. 26, 2015

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