Details that have emerged about what happened to Joan Rivers during the routine procedure that led to her death would make anyone sick. Unfortunately, it happens all the time. It’s called medical malpractice and it claims the lives of thousands of Americans each year.
The overwhelming majority of physicians treat their patients with the utmost care and respect. But like any profession, there are some who are sloppy, careless or negligent in their job, leading to life altering (and some times life ending) errors. This particular case illustrates that medical malpractice can happen to anyone – rich and famous, poor and ordinary. Even an expensive and fashionable clinic on Manhattan’s Upper East Side and doctors described by some as “celebrities” themselves were no protection to Ms. Rivers against carelessness, recklessness and mismanagement resulting in her death.
So-called “tort reform” and limits on damage awards related to pain and suffering were supposed to make health care cheaper and better, according to proponents. From my work on medical malpractice cases, I know this is a complete and total lie. Blanket protections and caps on recovery have not resulted in better medicine, but rather, poorer patient care. And is anyone out there paying less for their medical care?
Doctors Miss Signs of Crash as they Take “Selfies”
Ms. Rivers’ case is one that illustrates what can happen when physicians aren’t held accountable for following acceptable standards of care. Here’s some of what the lawsuit says happened:
- In the middle of a routine endoscopy to find out why the famous comic’s voice was raspy, an unauthorized doctor, escorted in by the clinic director, insisted on performing an unauthorized procedure.
- During the procedure, doctors took “selfies” of themselves and the unconscious Ms. Rivers as she lay on the table.
- While they were horsing around with their camera phones, they missed signs Ms. Rivers’ vital signs were plummeting and she was struggling to breathe.
- By the time they opened an airway, Ms. Rivers suffered oxygen loss to her brain, and died 10 days later, still unconscious.
Melissa Rivers, Joan’s daughter, is suing the clinic and doctors, not only in hopes this clinic and these doctors will never do this again, but to send a message that no one is above the law. Not even “celebrity” doctors and wealthy clinics.
Will Media Attention Bring Positive Change?
I represent victims and families of victims of negligence for a living. While this case is undeniably shocking, it is not unusual. As I said, preventable medical errors regularly claim the lives of thousands of patients. The National Institutes of Health estimates this figure at between 44,000 and 98,000 each year.
The only difference between what happened to Ms. Rivers and what happens to other victims of medical malpractice who end up suing is the media attention it is receiving. This kind of attention is positive if it brings about real and meaningful safeguards to ensure this does not happen to another individual. Our medical malpractice attorneys sincerely hope Melissa gets justice for her mom’s death, and the case puts the issue of preventable medical malpractice center stage.