Wellborn Paluch, LLP Blog

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Family of Joan Rivers Reaches Medical Malpractice Settlement

What factors contribute to medical malpractice?

As most of us are aware, medical malpractice cases are not quickly resolved, even when the doctors involved accept responsibility for medical mistakes. In the case of the premature death of comedian Joan Rivers, 81, as a result of a routine medical procedure in August of 2014, the settlement did not take place until May of 2016 even though this case was uncontested

The Circumstances of the Case

Ms. Rivers, an iconic sharp-tongued comedic performer, went to Yorkville Endoscopy, an outpatient surgical center in uptown Manhattan, complaining of a sore throat and hoarseness. Such upscale surgical units have become increasingly popular for minor surgical procedures. Ms. Rivers was scheduled to undergo an examination of her voice box and vocal cords (laryngoscopy), as well as an endoscopy, an exam to assess her upper digestive tract. Though the latter is performed under anesthesia, both procedures are considered routine and safe.

During the procedure, Ms. Rivers' vocal cords, already very inflamed, closed up, obstructing her breathing. A "crash cart," containing a medication such as succinylcholine, which would have relaxed the adjacent muscles to allow insertion of a breathing tube, was not called for, nor was an emergency cricothyrotomy (an incision to establish an airway) performed. During the 3 minutes before 911 was called, Ms. Rivers suffered cardiac arrest. A week later, she died after being removed from life support.

Elements of Malpractice Charges

A series of serious mistakes, as well as indiscretions, led to the Ms. River's death and to the just verdict of medical malpractice. These included:

  • Starstruck professionals did not follow protocol, showing nervous, disrespectful behavior
  • One of the anesthesiologists snapped a photo of Ms. Rivers while she was on the operating table
  • Dr. Bankulla, chief anesthesiologist warned that Ms. Rivers' vocal cords were extremely swollen
  • Dr. Cohen, the clinic's medical director, called Bankulla "paranoid" and let the operation proceed
  • Although Dr. Bankulla realized that the patient was experiencing an airway obstruction (laryngospasm), she did not demand a "crash cart" which might have enabled insertion of a breathing tube
  • Dr. Korovin, who should have been capable of performing an emergency incision to permit breathing, had left the clinic by the time he was needed
  • 3 chaotic minutes passed before the call to 911 was made

The medical malpractice suit filed by the Rivers family named Dr. Korovin, an ear, nose and throat specialist, Dr. Bankulla, the main anesthesiologist, two other anesthesiologists; and Dr. Lawrence Cohen, who has since resigned his position as the clinic’s medical director. While the amount of the medical malpractice settlement has not been revealed, it is reported to be substantial.

Medical errors have recently been shown to be the third most common cause of medical deaths in the U.S. If you have been the victim of a medical error in the Buffalo area, or if you have lost a loved one owing to medical malpractice, be sure to contact an experienced, trustworthy, and highly competent personal injury attorney.

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