Joan Rivers Daughter Melissa Rivers To File Wrongful Death Suit

Melissa Rivers, the only daughter of the late Joan Rivers, the 81 year old comedian who died on September 4, 2014, has announced her intention to file a multimillion dollar medical malpractice and wrongful death lawsuit against the Yorkville Endoscopy Clinic in New York City. The facts are that Ms. Rivers was seen at the clinic on August 28, 2014 for a voluntary procedure to examine her upper gastrointestinal tract and vocal chords. She was under sedation with Propofol, (ironically the same drug that was responsible for the death of the pop performer Michael Jackson in June of 2009).  Rivers went into cardiac arrest during the procedure, and the allegations include the charge that Yorkville did not properly monitor her intake of Propofol, which was administered prior to the operation. Ms. Rivers was rushed to Mount Sinai Hospital from Yorkville Endoscopy, and died of low blood oxygen to her brain for an extended time, resulting in irreversible brain damage.

Melissa Rivers is the sole heir to the Rivers estate (her father, Edgar Rosenberg, committed suicide in August of 1987), and the estate has been valued as high as $100-150 million. She claims that the lawsuit is not to seek compensation, but rather to “fully determine the facts and circumstances surrounding [Joan Rivers] death.” The official cause of death was “anoxic encephalopathy due to hypoxic arrest during laryngoscopy and upper gastrointestinal endoscopy with Propofol sedation for evaluation of voice changes and gastroesophageal disease.”

Ms. Rivers was in a coma from the throat procedure on August 28, 2014 through her death on September 4, 2014. Thus, with regard to the medical malpractice allegations, which would require that her attorneys prove “conscious pain and suffering”, this will be difficult to establish unless there is some evidence that Rivers had some conscious awareness of her condition.

There is no cause of action under New York State law for emotional pain and suffering from the loss of a parent, child or spouse in a wrongful death case, but Melissa does have a possible claim for “loss of parental guidance”, which considering the apparent close relationship between Melissa and her mother, could be substantial.

The claim which has the most potential value is for wrongful death. In the weeks before her untimely death, Joan Rivers was performing regularly on stage, and had performed at a comedy club the night before. She had a show called the “Fashion Police”, and was a regular presence on shopping network programs, a frequent guest on Howard Stern’s radio show, the E channel, and at Oscars events. Therefore, the wrongful death claim, which is based on the earnings potential of the deceased, could be substantial. The defense to the claim will be that Ms. Rivers’ work life expectancy was limited, and even if she was in good health, she would not be expected to work more than another few years. Of course, jurors will be reminded of George Burns, Bob Hope and Milton Berle, who worked well into their 80’s and in the case of Mr. Burns, close to 100!

Before a case can be commenced, Ms. Rivers’ will must be filed, appointing her daughter Melissa as the executor of the estate, and then the lawsuit papers can be filed in Melissa’s name on behalf of her mother, and individually for wrongful death and loss of parental guidance.

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