Melissa Rivers Sues Yorkville Endoscopy, Joan Rivers' Medical Clinic

Joan Rivers' daughter is taking legal action against her late mother's doctors.

January 26, 2015, 6:25 PM
PHOTO: Melissa Rivers and Joan Rivers attend the 2014 NBCUniversal Cable Entertainment Upfronts at The Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, May 15, 2014, in New York City.
Melissa Rivers and Joan Rivers attend the 2014 NBCUniversal Cable Entertainment Upfronts at The Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, May 15, 2014, in New York City.
Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images

— -- Melissa Rivers filed suit today against a New York medical clinic where her mother Joan Rivers went into cardiac arrest, claiming the “horrific treatment” she received there was negligent. She’s seeking unspecified damages and, she says, to make sure what her mother endured never happens again.

The decision, she said in a statement to ABC News, “was one of the most difficult decisions I’ve ever had to make.”

"What ultimately guided me was my unwavering belief that no family should ever have to go through what my mother, [my son] Cooper and I have been through," she said in the statement. "The level of medical mismanagement, incompetency, disrespect and outrageous behavior is shocking and frankly, almost incomprehensible. Not only did my mother deserve better, every patient deserves better. It is my goal to make sure that this kind of horrific medical treatment never happens to anyone again."

The suit names, among others, Yorkville Endoscopy, its former medical director Dr. Lawrence Cohen, anesthesiologist Robert Koniuta and Dr. Gwen Korovin, Rivers’ personal ENT who allegedly was not authorized to be in the room at the time Rivers went in for a routine procedure August 28.

According to the lawsuit, Joan Rivers authorized the clinic to perform an upper endoscopy by Cohen. Cohen allowed Korovin into the procedure room even though she “should not have been permitted.”

Melissa Rivers alleges in the suit that Korovin announced “I’ll go first” and proceeded to perform an unauthorized transnasal laryngoscopy on Rivers even though she “had no right to perform any medical procedures or render any medical services” at Yorkville Endoscopy.

Melissa Rivers also claimed that the anesthesiologist in the room raised questions about the propriety but that Cohen “ignored the questions.” Once the laryngoscopy was complete, Cohen began the endoscopy but at that point Rivers’ vital signs were allegedly deteriorating. Her blood pressure, pulse and oxygen levels dropped significantly but the doctors failed to notice, according to court papers.

At that point, the lawsuit said, the doctors in the room failed to notice and Cohen “took out his cell phone and took photos of Joan Rivers while under sedation” with Korovin. According to the court document, Cohen said Rivers “will like to see these in the recovery area.”

At no time, the lawsuit says, did Rivers “authorize Cohen to take photos of her while under sedation and while undergoing medical procedures.” No one in the room objected, according to the court papers.

By the time the doctors took note of her dropping vital signs, the lawsuit states, they attempted to revive her with an ambulatory bag, but it took 10 minutes for them to determine that it wouldn't work because of her obstructed airway. By the time they realized an emergency procedure called a cricothyrotomy was required, Korovin, the only one who knew how to do it, had allegedly "left the procedure room.” The lawsuit language is blunt: Korovin, it said, “abandoned her patient, Joan Rivers.”

Gair Gair Conason Steigman Mackauf Bloom and Rubinowitz attorneys Jeffrey Bloom and Ben Rubinowitz, lawyers for Melissa Rivers, said that they investigated the claims "properly and thoroughly" before making the lawsuit.

"To put it mildly, we are not just disappointed by the acts and omissions leading to the death of Joan Rivers, but we are outraged by the lack of care and concern for Ms. Rivers on the part of her treating physicians and the endoscopy center where the treatment was rendered," they told ABC News in a statement. "In filing this lawsuit on behalf of Melissa and Cooper we have two goals: First, to ensure that they receive the justice they deserve and second, to make certain that the many medical deficiencies that lead to Joan Rivers’ death are never repeated by any outpatient surgery center."

Joan Rivers died in September at the age of 81, days after going into cardiac arrest at Yorkville Endoscopy. Since her death, the clinic not only lost its certification from the federal agency that determines eligibility for Medicare reimbursements, but also accreditation from the nonprofit group that private insurers use to determine whether procedures can be covered. However, a representative for the clinic assured ABC News that its goal is to remain open.

A rep for Yorkville Endoscopy said officials there were unavailable for comment. The clinic issued this statement: "We are aware that a lawsuit was filed, but it is not appropriate to comment publicly regarding the lawsuit. 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, and we are continuing to work with regulatory agencies to ensure compliance with all laws and regulations."

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