Joan Rivers recently died due to what we presume are complications during a Laryngoscopy and upper GI Endoscopy. Of course, this is tragic. Worse yet, it's all over the news - which means there is a lot of information out there that can confuse the public.

It was recently announced that the daughter of Joan Rivers intends to file a lawsuit, if and when she is appointed the administrator of Joan’s estate. As a Virginia medical malpractice attorney, I would like to shed some light on what we can learn from Joan Rivers’ death. (Remember, the laws are different in each state and every case is different, but there are some important points worth noting here.)

  1. If a loved one dies during a medical procedure, get an autopsy! Joan Rivers wasn’t autopsied. Now, her estate will have to speculate about the cause of death. She does have a death certificate which says “anoxic encephalopathy due to hypoxic arrest during laryngoscopy and upper gastrointestinal endoscopy with propofol sedation.” However, we do not know the saturation of propofol in her body. In other words, we don’t know if a propofol overdose killed her.
  2. You have to have “causation,” negligence, and an injury. Causation means that whatever the doctor did wrong, or failed to do, caused the injury. In this case, the injury is death. The negligence is failing to weigh the patient; an inconsistent propofol log; lack of informed consent to multiple procedures; unauthorized medical professionals in the room; photographs taken illicitly; and failing to timely respond to decreasing vital signs.

    Remove the white noise – the random stuff that doesn’t matter. The photos didn’t cause death. The lack of informed consent to a procedure that was abandoned, and was not underway when Joan Rivers’ heart tanked, is not at issue. The fact that the doctor didn’t have privileges at this clinic is not going to turn the case. What matters is the propofol, the body weight, and the log. Because no autopsy was done, we don’t know if it was a propofol overdose. We don’t know, definitively, what caused the death. We just know that, basically, her brain was suffocated.
  3. Why is this important? Often times doctors deliver substandard care. Sometimes they are insulting, rude, prejudicial, or downright mean. Sometimes you are treated like a third class human, your hospital room is dirty, or you are the victim of medical negligence. If that medical negligence doesn't cause a severe injury, then it is just white noise.
  4. Medical Malpractice is expensive and complicated. If something doesn’t contribute to your case, then it is just a distraction. That is the province of defense attorneys. A plaintiff’s attorney has the job of proving things in the simplest terms: something was done wrong or wasn’t done at all + that something caused the injury + that injury is worth significant money. 

So what is the prognosis for Joan Rivers’ case? It's not good. Anesthesia and surgery have complications. Just because someone died doesn’t mean anything was done wrong. Yes, there is a report saying a bunch of things were done wrong, or not done at all, but none of those things have been definitively linked to Joan’s death. An autopsy would have simplified things. Time will tell if these big shot attorneys can get some medical experts to make such a link in the absence of the autopsy.

If you want to learn more about this kind of claim, you can request our free report on medical malpractice cases in Virginia from our website.

More importantly, if you or a family have suffered due to what you believe is medical malpractice, call our main office in Fairfax at (703)584-7277. We have satellite offices throughout Virginia to help you.

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