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Lessons from Joan Rivers' Death - Detecting Medical Malpractice

Ever since actor Joan Rivers' untimely death, rumors are rife about how her doctor went against her wishes to perform a biopsy that might have caused her death. Her daughter has already come out in public and voiced her doubts regarding the doctor's actions. But it's not going to be an easy task to prove malpractice especially when Joan herself is not available to tell the world what she had consented to and what had been done to her. So far, we have only been grasping at straws.

But if Mellissa Rivers (many people remember her acting like a total nightmare on Celebrity Apprentice years ago) was to actually go ahead with her intent of bringing justice to Joan and file a case against the doctor who she believes has violated standard care practices, proving negligence and causation would be the first things her lawyers would advise her to do.

Consent and standard of care

The reports in the media concerning Rivers' death have all talked about how Joan apparently went in for a rare surgery called a 'vocal cord biopsy'. Experts have been divided about their opinion on this particular surgery-some say it cannot be done at all, while some say that it might be possible but the private clinic where Rivers opted to have her surgery would probably not have the skills required for the same. We haven't heard the end of the discussion on vocal cord surgery yet, but what we do know is that the procedure was extremely sensitive and required expertise and facilities that a private clinic could never have.

News reports also say that Rivers' suffered a cardiac arrest, either sometime during the surgery or soon after it. But we haven't been told yet what kind of anesthesia she was given, or the details of the surgery performed on her. A small birdie has also leaked information to the media about a possible 'selfie' that the operating surgeon clicked with Joan, while she lay on the surgical bed under anesthesia. All of these truths and half-truths circulating around have raised some serious questions, and rightfully so.

Asking the right questions

The first question that the Rivers' family needs to ask is if there was a violation of any kind. Did the attending surgeon deviate from the standard procedures at any given point of time? What exactly did Joan Rivers consent to when she agreed to the surgery. Most probably, the selfie was not on that list! And if the doctor was blatant enough to violate his patient's privacy in a crucial moment (and Joan Rivers' estate can sue him for this if it's true), he may have been blasé about other procedures as well.

Granted that Rivers' doctor was a trained otolaryngologist, but if the vocal cord procedure performed on Rivers' was so rare the patient may have needed clearance from her regular doctor. Her cardiac arrest could have been caused by many reasons, primary being an overdose of anesthesia. In major surgeries it is necessary to have a trained anesthesiologist in the operating room. We don't know if Rivers had one for her surgery.

For any medical malpractice case it is important to establish negligence and causation before the case can proceed. These are questions that any lawyer would need to ask to evaluate if there is any basis for medical malpractice in such cases and the answers would determine the future of the trial.

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