As many of you know, we at Edwards & Ragatz litigate a large number of medical malpractice cases. We screen them carefully and make sure the claims have merit and there is a potential upside for the plaintiff. Thus, I was very interested to read that Melissa Rivers had filed a lawsuit against the New York endoscopy clinic where her mother, Joan Rivers, underwent severe complications during a procedure and then subsequently died. According to various news outlets, the lawsuit alleges that the doctors mishandled the endoscopy and performed another medical procedure called a laryngoscopy on Rivers’ vocal cords without consent. When the anesthesiologist expressed concern over what the procedure would do to Rivers’ ability to breathe, she was told she was being “paranoid” by the gastroenterologist performing the endoscopy, Dr. Lawrence Cohen, the suit said. He has since resigned. Rivers’ private ear, nose and throat specialist, Gwen Korovin, was introduced as an observer in the operating room but instead performed two procedures though she wasn’t cleared to work at the clinic, the lawsuit said. Rivers crashed during the second — after Cohen snapped pictures of Rivers, and with Korovin, saying later he thought Rivers would want to see them, the suit said. Korovin then left the operating room to avoid being caught, according to the suit. The suit also claims for 17 minutes, while her blood pressure, pulse, heart rate and oxygen levels dropped — precipitously — the doctors in the room failed to cut into her trachea to restore the oxygen flow to her brain.
The city’s medical examiner found that she died of brain damage due to lack of oxygen after she stopped breathing during an endoscopy at Yorkville Endoscopy a week earlier. Her death was classified as a therapeutic complication.
After filing suit, Melissa Rivers and her lawyers issued statements. “To put it mildly, we are not just disappointed by the acts and omissions leading to the death of Joan Rivers, but we are outraged by the lack of care and concern for Ms. Rivers on the part of her treating physicians and the endoscopy center where the treatment was rendered,” Rubinowtiz and co-counsel Jeffrey Bloom said in a statement. “Had the doctors acted as physicians for Joan Rivers instead of groupies, Joan Rivers would have been doing Fashion Police last week,” Bloom said. Melissa Rivers strongly attacked the Yorkville Endoscopy clinic where her mother went in last year for a procedure to check on a raspy throat, fell unconscious and never woke up. “The level of medical mismanagement, incompetency, disrespect and outrageous behavior is shocking and frankly, almost incomprehensible, ” Melissa said in a statement.
Still, Melissa said filing the suit was one of the most difficult decisions she had to make. “What ultimately guided me was my unwavering belief that no family should ever have to go through what my mother, Cooper and I have been through,” she said, referring to her son. Not only did her mother deserve better, every patient deserves better, she said. “It is my goal to make sure that this kind of horrific medical treatment never happens to anyone again.” Rubinowitz said Melissa hopes to ensure that ambulatory surgical centers, such as Yorkville, be covered by similar strict regulations covering equipment, training and physician credentials that hospitals have to meet.
A federal investigation, ordered by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, found the Yorkville Endoscopy clinic made several errors, including failing to keep proper medication records and snapping cellphone photos of Rivers while she was unconscious. It also found the Manhattan clinic failed to get informed consent for every procedure performed and failed to record Rivers’ weight before the administration of sedation medication. The clinic submitted a lengthy plan for fixes, but the changes weren’t good enough and the federal agency said it would revoke accreditation unless it was in better compliance by March 2.
I have to say that all of our clients have the same sentiments that Ms. Rivers has when filling suit. They want to make sure that whatever tragic event happened to themselves or a loved one does not happen again. They want to make sure a physician or a health care provider pauses and choose another action next time that they are providing care that does not lead to the death of a loved one. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Rivers family.