Was the untimely death of Joan Rivers caused by medical malpractice?

The unusual circumstances surrounding the death of comedienne Joan Rivers could possibly result in medical malpractice claims.

The sudden passing of legendary comedienne Joan Rivers has left family, friends and fans reeling. Rivers died on September 4, 2014, following a minor surgical procedure a week earlier that resulted in cardiac arrest. The renowned comic was 81 at the time of her death. The investigation into Rivers' death - and of the outpatient clinic where her procedure took place - by the New York State Department of Health is ongoing at this time, but there have been conflicting reports about what actually happened during the procedure.

Conflicting reports adding to the confusion

Some sources indicate that Rivers' personal physician was present during her endoscopy (a procedure in which a small camera is passed down the throat to provide a view of the patient's esophagus, stomach or upper gastrointestinal tract), and that he made a split-second decision to collect a biopsy sample of her vocal chords upon seeing an abnormality. That biopsy reportedly led to the post-operative complications seen, mainly swelling in the vocal chords, which in turn cut off oxygen flow to her brain and caused the cardiac arrest. The clinic has denied any such biopsy took place, and has stated that Rivers' own doctor had no "privileges" to perform procedures there. In the meantime, the clinic's medical director has resigned and left the practice.

In addition to the unscheduled, and as yet unconfirmed, vocal chord biopsy, it has also been reported that one physician present during Rivers' endoscopy took a self-portrait of himself beside an unconscious Rivers before the procedure. While this behavior may not rise to the level of malpractice, it certainly is unseemly, and is enough to give patients undergoing procedures at that clinic - and in countless others across the country - pause before consenting to go under anesthesia.

Could Rivers' age and preexisting conditions be to blame?

Given that Rivers was 81 years old and had previously been diagnosed with a heart condition, some experts have questioned why her endoscopy was taking place in an outpatient facility instead of a hospital. No determination has been made about the sufficiency of the clinic's prescreening process, but it is possible that, if individual providers or the clinic itself failed to adequately account for Rivers' advanced age and preexisting conditions when they allowed her procedure to take place there, medical malpractice claims could follow.

The tragic death of Joan Rivers has drawn national attention to something that causes serious and sometimes fatal injuries each year: medical negligence. Again, no determination has been made yet as to whether Rivers herself was the victim of a physician or facility's malpractice, but there are certainly questions surrounding her passing, some of which may never be made public because of patient privacy concerns. If you or a loved one has been injured by the malpractice of a doctor, nurse, pharmacist, anesthesiologist or other medical care provider, it is important to remember that you have legal rights. Speak with an experienced medical malpractice attorney in your area to learn more about holding the person or facility responsible for your injuries legally accountable for what they have done.

Keywords: medical malpractice, surgical error, postoperative complication