Joan Rivers’s Daughter Has Filed a Lawsuit Over Her Mother’s Death

Photo: Astrid Stawiarz/2014 Getty Images

After hiring a law firm in October to look into her mother's death, Melissa Rivers has filed a multimillion-dollar lawsuit against a Manhattan medical clinic and the doctors who administered Joan Rivers's fatal throat procedure. The malpractice suit alleges that instead of tending to Rivers, the doctors at Yorkville Endoscopy tried to execute unauthorized procedures, took selfies, and administered dangerous sedatives in the operating room. In a statement released today, the comedian's daughter said that filing the suit was difficult, but "no family should ever have to go through what my mother, Cooper, and I have been through. ... The level of medical mismanagement, incompetency, disrespect, and outrageous behavior is shocking and frankly, almost incomprehensible."

Joan Rivers died of brain damage as a result of lack of oxygen on September 4 at the age of 81, owing to complications from the outpatient throat surgery. What was supposed to be a routine endoscopy quickly became a botched procedure, according to court documents, as medical staff invited Rivers's personal doctor, who wasn't cleared to work at the clinic, to perform an unauthorized biopsy on Rivers's windpipe. During the procedure, the clinic's medical director allegedly snapped selfies with the sedated Rivers; the biopsy quickly led to a spasm that caused Rivers's throat to swell and cut off the oxygen flowing to her brain.

An anesthesiologist in the room reportedly made multiple attempts to put the operation on the right track, but was ultimately ignored. That same anesthesiologist, however, also allegedly gave Rivers propofol (the sedative that contributed to Michael Jackson's death) as her vitals were plummeting. Rivers's personal doctor fled the OR to avoid being caught, according to the suit. "Had the doctors acted as physicians for Joan Rivers instead of groupies, Joan Rivers would have been doing Fashion Police last week," said family lawyer Jeffrey Bloom, of Gair, Gair, Conason, Steigman McKauf, Bloom and Rabinowitz.

Yorkville, Frontier Healthcare (the company that partially owns Yorkville), Rivers’s personal physician, and three anesthesiologists have been named as defendants in the suit. Yorkville did not comment on the lawsuit but did say: "The Rivers family has, as it has always had, our deepest sympathies and condolences. ... The 51 physicians, nurses and staff who currently work at Yorkville remain firmly committed to providing the highest quality of care to their patients." The embattled clinic is at risk of losing its federal accreditation if it's not under better compliance by March 2. The Rivers family is seeking unspecified damages, but the Daily News reports the estate could recoup millions because Rivers was still making money from stand-up, appearances, books, and TV before her death.