The Death of Joan Rivers and Medical Malpractice in Ohio

by Jeffrey A. Leikin | November 14th, 2014

Are Ohio physicians becoming too complacent in their medical care? Believe it or not, the recent death of legendary comedian Joan Rivers may shed some light. In fact, the recent revelations concerning her death may give a glimpse into the complacency of some medical providers in this country, and more specifically, in our community.

In a recent article it has been reported that the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) completed an investigation into Ms. Rivers’ medical care just prior to her death. Among the medical errors found were:

  1.  Failing to identify deteriorating vital signs and provide timely intervention.
  2. Failing to record Rivers’ weight, prior to the administration of medication for sedation.
  3. Failing to consistently document the dose of Propofol, a sedative, administered.
  4. Failing to get Rivers’ informed consent for each procedure performed.
  5. Failing to ensure that she was cared for only by physicians granted privilege in accordance with the clinic’s bylaws.
  6. Failing to abide by its own cellphone policy (the report found that a photograph was taken of a surgeon and Rivers while she was under sedation).

The errors noted in this article are an indication that these medical providers simply were not concerned with the well being of this patient. Making sure consent forms are signed, checking vital signs, reporting to physicians significant changes in a patient’s condition, and obtaining a patient’s height and weight are Medicine 101. In fact, the physician noted was attempting to get a photograph with a critically ill patient for either his general amusement or use on his latest social media posting. So the question needs to be asked, How does this happen?

I have one explanation, a contributing cause if you will. With Tort Reform in medical malpractice laws now secure over most this country, including Ohio, medical providers are simply no longer worried about the potential consequences of their actions or inactions – as we see in the Joan Rivers case. Some, and it will be the minority I hope, have become very complacent in the delivery of their medical care.

In a study done by the Ohio Supreme Court for case filings between the years of 2000 to 2009, the number of professional tort cases filed in Ohio was reduced from 2,704 to 1,368. The majority of these cases are medical malpractice suits. Tort reform laws in the area of medical negligence — such as shortened statutes of limitations, caps on noneconomic damages, and more expensive and detailed filing requirements — have clearly reduced the number of lawsuits. The errors of medical providers are no longer likely to be publicized, known to their peers, or actionable by the patient. For a less well known patient than Joan Rivers, these errors are more likely to be swept under the nearest carpet.

There is a lot we can do to prevent the complacency displayed by Joan Rivers’ medical providers. We can promptly call a qualified medical malpractice lawyer to evaluate a potential claim. We can ask governmental agencies like CMS, Ohio Department of Health, Insurance Companies or local agencies to investigate mishaps by physicians, nurses or other providers – and to do so before payment to these providers is finalized. We can continue to oppose the tort reform laws in Ohio by contacting our state legislatures and demanding that the civil justice system return to being a system based on the constitutional principles established over 200 years ago in this country.

What we cannot do is do nothing. Situations similar to Joan Rivers’ case are happening all over Ohio. We need to act before it happens to us or our family members.

Jeffrey A. Leikin, Esq.