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Archive July 2016 XVII, No. 7

Medical Malpractice: 5 Lessons From the Joan Rivers Lawsuit

Higher safety standards will reduce your exposure to liability claims.

Michael Wong

Michael Wong, JD


Joan Rivers star COMEDY OF ERRORS With the Joan Rivers malpractice case settled, there are some key takeaways from the tragedy.

What lessons can we learn from the recently settled medical malpractice lawsuit against the clinic where Joan Rivers stopped breathing and died days after undergoing a routine endoscopy? The suit alleged that doctors at Yorkville Endoscopy performed unauthorized procedures, snapped a cell phone selfie with the comedienne and failed to act as her vital signs deteriorated. In a statement, Ms. Rivers's daughter, Melissa Rivers, said that she "will work towards ensuring higher safety standards in outpatient surgical clinics." Here are 5 key takeaways from the case.

Routine doesn't mean risk-free. The American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA) reminds us that although anesthesia is now considered routine, that doesn't mean it is risk-free. "Any number of things can go wrong in the operating room," said ASA President Jane C. K. Fitch, MD. Whether you're in a fast-paced cataract clinic, an endoscopy suite or a standard OR, stress to staff and physicians to treat each case with extreme care and remain on guard to protect the patient.

Mistakes can be costly. The amount of the Rivers settlement wasn't disclosed, but lawyers confirmed that it was "substantial." This falls in line with what we know about non-hospital, anesthesia-related medical malpractice claims. One analysis of more than 3,300 closed claims in an ASA database shows that the median payment per claim is $210,000 for events occurring in the OR and $330,000 for claims occurring outside of the OR, including PACU or an endo suite ( In claims involving areas outside of the OR, the study found that most took place in a gastrointestinal suite during monitored anesthesia care (32%). These numbers are a good reminder that not only can adverse events occur outside of the OR, but also that these incidents can trigger a costly lawsuit for your facility.

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