Was Joan Rivers a Victim of Medical Malpractice?

UPDATE: On Thursday, a report from the medical examiner listed Joan Rivers’ cause of death as “therapeutic complications,” specifically spasms in her vocal cords during the procedure that blocked her airway. She subsequently went into cardiac arrest. It is still unclear whether Rivers consented to the procedure that ultimately led to her death, CNN reported.


people-joanriversWhether you were a fan or not, everyone who watched would agree that Joan Rivers looked a healthy 81-year-old as she wielded her sharp-witted comic criticisms recently on E!’s program Fashion Police. She grabbed social media attention walking out of interviews, promoting a new book and appearing on David Letterman’s show. E! described her as lively and “sharp as she’s ever been.”

News spread fast that Joan Rivers suffered cardiac arrest on Aug. 28 during a minor throat procedure and was rushed to Mount Sinai Hospital, where she died on Sept. 4.

What Happened?

Subsequent news reports claim that doctors performed an unscheduled biopsy on Rivers during an endoscopy procedure. There are allegations that the procedure was not supposed to be performed at that facility. Further casting the medical staff in a potentially bad light are reports that a doctor took a “selfie” with an unconscious Rivers shortly before the procedure that killed her. The doctor in question has denied these claims.

funeral-joan-riversJoan’s daughter, Melissa Rivers, has decided to file a medical malpractice suit against the facility. If successful, the suit could be worth millions of dollars.

Many questions remain unanswered. An endoscopic procedure to view the vocal cords would typically use a rigid laryngoscopy or flexible laryngoscopy, which allows the physician to view and video the patient’s anatomy. Typically, the doctor uses a topical anesthetic to prevent gagging and sneezing. A similar microsurgery involving a laser for vocal cord cancer is used by modern doctors. These procedures should not be life-threatening.

Did this happen as the result of medical malpractice? Questions we would ask first are:

  • Was her airway cutoff by an improper procedure?
  • Was the anesthesia administered properly?
  • Was supplemental oxygen used, and was she deprived of it at any time?
  • Is it possible she had an unrelated cardiac event?
  • If she did have a cardiac event, were appropriate procedures followed?

Time Will Tell

Seeking justice is a diligent process. The Perey Law Group has been handling medical malpractice cases for decades. In each case, a thorough investigation is required to determine if the case has merit. We start with obtaining and closely reviewing the medical records. Details and data are present in these records that are often meaningless to, or overlooked by, the untrained eye.

It now appears the courts will settle the question of whether the death of Joan Rivers can be blamed on medical negligence. It will likely be some time before the full details are revealed and the case comes to a close.

image credit: NY Daily News