Joan Rivers’ daughter filed a lawsuit Monday against the Manhattan clinic where the comedian suffered fatal brain damage during a routine procedure, claiming the doctors treated her mother in a “negligent and careless manner.”
The complaint filed in state court by Melissa Rivers and her mother’s estate outlines a series of alleged missteps at Yorkville Endoscopy on Aug. 28 that it contends led to a coma and her death days later.
“Joan Rivers needed to be treated as a patient by her doctors… instead they treated her as a groupie,” lawyer Jeffrey Bloom said. “If she was treated as a patient she’d be on 'Fashion Police' today, making people smile.”
The claims in the suit run the gamut from shoddy paperwork to a 12-minute delay in calling 911 for the 81-year-old celebrity, who was having trouble with her voice.
In a statement, Melissa Rivers said the decision to file the suit, which seeks unspecified damages, was difficult.
“The level of medical mismanagement, incompentency, disrespect and outrageous behavior is shocking and frankly, almost incomprehensible. Not only did my mother deserve better, every patient deserves better.”
Among the allegations in the suit:
- The doctors did not obtain Rivers’ written consent for one of the procedures they performed on her.
- One of the doctors who was in the procedure room, Gwen Korovin, was not authorized to be there.
- Another physician, Lawrence Cohen, used his cellphone to take photos of Rivers while she was under sedation and suggested she “will like to see these in the recovery area.”
- Cohen dismissed a request by the anesthesiologist, Renuka Bankulla, for a scope to be reinserted so she could better see the area doctors were working on. “You’re such a curious cat,” Cohen said, according to the complaint. “You always want to know what’s going on.”
- The doctors failed to intubate Rivers quickly to get oxygen into her bloodstream even after they recognized that her airway was obstructed by swelling.
- After an intubation attempt failed, they tried to perform a tracheotomy but the doctor who would have done it, Korovin, had fled the room because she “wanted to avoid getting caught.”
- The doctors called a “code blue” on Rivers at 9:28 a.m. but didn’t dial 911 until 9:40 a.m., even though Cohen had a cellphone.
“Our client Melissa Rivers couldn’t be more disappointed and disheartened by this outrageous medical conduct,” attorney Ben Rubinowitz said. “Hard to imagine a case where more medical negligence is stacked on medical carelessness.
“Our goal is to make sure real change comes about in regulation of ambulatory surgery centers to ensure patient safety and health.”
According to the attorneys, the details in the suit came from a five-page handwritten memo that Bankulla placed in Rivers’ medical file after the debacle. Bankulla was also interviewed by the New York City Medical Examiner’s Office, which concluded that Rivers died from brain damage due to lack of oxygen during an exam, “a predictable complication of medical therapy.”