UPDATE: A lawyer for Dr. Gwen Korovin, who reportedly left the operation room at a time when she could have administered a tracheotomy on Joan Rivers, is denying the allegations that she abandoned the comedian in Melissa Rivers’ lawsuit. “What happened was she never left the room,” attorney William Lewis told The New York Times. “Not only did she never leave the room, she was the last doctor to leave the room after Miss Rivers was taken away by E.M.S. in an ambulance.”
Joan Rivers’ daughter, Melissa, has filed a lawsuit claiming that her mother would be alive today if doctors at a New York City endoscopy clinic had not carried out unauthorized medical procedures, ignored advice from an anesthesiologist and taken selfies with the late Fashion Police host during an operation last year. The comedian died last September of brain damage caused by low blood oxygen, New York City’s Medical Examiner said at the time. The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages, according to The Associated Press.
Melissa released a statement along with the lawsuit directing harsh words at the clinic, Yorkville Endoscopy. “What ultimately guided me was my unwavering belief that no family should ever have to go through what my mother, [my son] Cooper and I have been through,” she said. “The level of medical mismanagement, incompetency, disrespect and outrageous behavior is shocking and frankly, almost incomprehensible.”
Defendants in the suit include Yorkville, a company that partially owns the clinic and is responsible for approving doctors, Rivers’ personal physician and three anesthesiologists. The suit alleges that even though the team tried to revive the comic when the operation took a turn for the worse, no one performed a tracheotomy to allow her to breathe, a decision that led to her death.
Rivers family lawyer Jeffrey Bloom said the doctors acted as “groupies” in a statement, according to the New York Daily News, and that the comedian “would have been doing Fashion Police last week,” if they had done their jobs. Bloom and another attorney, Ben Rubinowitz, expressed further anger when speaking to the AP. “To put it mildly, we are not just disappointed by the acts and omissions leading to the death of Joan Rivers, but we are outraged by the lack of care and concern for Ms. Rivers on the part of her treating physicians and the endoscopy center where the treatment was rendered,” they said.
The lawsuit alleges that Rivers was unable to expel carbon dioxide from her lungs and suffered a heart attack and brain damage as a result, the Daily News reports. It also claims that the clinic’s medical director, Lawrence Cohen, allowed Rivers’ personal ear, nose and throat doctor, Gwen Korovin, into the room to perform an unauthorized biopsy windpipe exam. During the biopsy, which took part in two parts, Cohen took pictures of Korovin at work. One of the defendant anesthesiologists tried to intervene when Rivers’ vitals changed, but did not call for a tracheotomy kit for another 17 minutes; it ultimately went unused. One of the anesthesiologists said that Korovin, who could have administered the procedure, was not around when they were ready to.
As the comedian’s oxygen levels dropped, the lawsuit says that Cohen and two other anesthesiologists attempted to pump air into her lungs and by the time EMS delivered her to a hospital, she had suffered irreversible brain damage. The comedian went in a coma and died a week later.
A rep for Yorkville released a statement that did not address the lawsuit. “The Rivers family has, as it has always had, our deepest sympathies and condolences,” it said. “The 51 physicians, nurses and staff who currently work at Yorkville remain firmly committed to providing the highest quality of care to their patients.”
Yorkville dismissed Cohen almost immediately after Rivers’ death. Although it has worked with Medicaid and Medicare investigators, the clinic could lose its federal accreditation in March. The inquiry has found that the clinic made errors including poor record keeping with regard to medication (failing to note Rivers’ weight before administering a sedative), allowing an unauthorized doctor in and noting the cell phone photos.
The Daily News speculates that the Rivers family could get millions from the lawsuit, as the comedian was appearing on television, writing books and making stand-up appearances at the time of her death.