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Joan Rivers and Alleged Medical Malpractice: 3 Things to Know

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By Andrew Chow, Esq. on January 27, 2015 12:59 PM

Comedian Joan Rivers' death was the result of medical malpractice, her daughter claims in a lawsuit. What can consumers learn from this pending case?

As you may recall, Joan Rivers underwent a procedure to remove a growth from her vocal cords last summer. She suffered cardiac and respiratory arrest during surgery and was rushed to a hospital; Melissa Rivers later decided to remove her mother from life support.

But according to Melissa's lawsuit, Joan Rivers' death can be blamed on doctors and the New York City clinic where her procedure was performed. Here are three legal facts about medical malpractice cases to keep in mind as this lawsuit proceeds:

1. The Lawsuit Does Not Specify the Amount of Damages.

Lawsuits often seek a specific dollar amount in terms of damages, but Melissa Rivers' lawsuit does not. Under the laws of New York, where the suit was filed, lawsuits alleging personal injury or wrongful death are not allowed to state an amount for damages. This allows a jury to come up with an amount on its own, without being influenced by what the plaintiff feels he or she deserves. Other states have similar laws about specifying damages in these types of cases.

2. What Counts as Malpractice?

Many medical errors can be considered malpractice, including wrong-site surgeries and retained foreign objects (i.e., sponges left inside a patient). But these cases all assert that a medical professional breached his or her duty to a patient by failing to act as a reasonable professional would.

In Melissa Rivers' lawsuit, she names the Yorkville Endoscopy Center and five physicians, including her mother's personal doctor Gwen Korovin, as defendants, Reuters reports. The doctors failed to recognize Joan Rivers' declining vital signs, performed a procedure that Rivers had not consented to, and were slow in calling 911, the suit asserts. The suit also calls out one doctor for allegedly taking a "selfie" with Joan Rivers while she underwent the procedures.

3. The Case May Come Down to a 'Battle of the Experts.'

If the case goes to trial, the question of malpractice may come down to a "battle of the experts." That's when both sides present dueling expert witnesses to testify about how a "reasonable" medical professional would have acted in a similar situation.

As you can see, there are a lot of legal factors to consider in a medical malpractice lawsuit. To lean more, check out FindLaw's section on Medical Malpractice or contact an experienced attorney to review your case.

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