The country was saddened in August 2014 by news that legendary comedienne Joan Rivers had died. It was even more upsetting to learn that her death may have been caused by medical malpractice.
Although she was 81 years old, Rivers still seemed to be in good health. A week before her death, Ms. Rivers complained of a sore throat and a horse voice. She went to an outpatient surgery center in New York to have examinations and other work done. While under anesthesia, her vocal cords swelled to the point of blocking her airway.
This kind of emergency does sometimes happen, but breathing can be restored quickly if proper protocols are in place. The anesthesiologist treating Ms. Rivers wrote five pages of notes after the incident in order to avoid being blamed for what went wrong. Her notes proved incredibly valuable.
According to the anesthesiologist, she warned the doctor that Ms. Rivers’ vocal cords were swollen and could seize up. Her warning was dismissed as “paranoid.” When her airway did close, there was no call for a “crash cart” that could have helped doctors intubate her. And as the situation worsened, the doctor looked around for another physician who could have performed an emergency procedure to open a hole in Ms. Rivers’ throat. That doctor had already left the office for the day.
Recently, Rivers’ daughter Melissa reached a settlement in her medical malpractice suit against the clinic and the doctors working on her mother. The settlement amount was not disclosed (but was described as substantial), and the doctors accepted responsibility for the comedienne’s death.
Although medical malpractice cases are about money to some degree (seeking compensation for medical costs and other damages), they are also about ensuring that other patients are not hurt or killed by the same mistakes. Melissa Rivers has said that she hopes her lawsuit will lead to better oversight and safety standards at outpatient surgical centers.
If you or a loved one has been seriously injured (or killed) by what may have been a preventable medical error, please discuss your case with an experienced medical malpractice attorney.