NEW YORK (Reuters) - Joan Rivers' daughter filed a malpractice lawsuit on Monday against the New York medical clinic that treated her mother days before her death, saying doctors there posed for selfies with their sedated celebrity patient even as her vital signs were plunging.
Rivers, who was 81, suffered a loss of oxygen to her brain on Aug. 28 while physicians at the Yorkville Endoscopy center in Manhattan were performing procedures to examine her throat and vocal cords, and she died a week later at a New York hospital.
The lawsuit said the doctors were not adequately trained to recognize and deal with the type of emergency airway obstruction suffered by Rivers and that they failed to detect her deteriorating vital signs while she was in their care.
Moreover, the complaint says, the outpatient clinic allowed a doctor whose presence was unauthorized to twice conduct a procedure that Rivers had not consented to, a trans-nasal laryngoscopy, in which a scope is passed through sinus passages into the larynx.
It was during a repeat of that procedure, according to the lawsuit, that Rivers' already dangerously low blood pressure and heart rate fell further as her airway became so constricted that she could no longer breathe.
Apparently unaware at that point of Rivers' declining condition, one doctor took out his cell phone and snapped photos of himself with the doctor performing the laryngoscopy on Rivers while she was sedated, the lawsuit said.
As Rivers' condition grew dire and doctors struggled to restore her breathing, the physician who conducted the laryngoscopy left the room because she knew she was not permitted to be there "and wanted to avoid getting caught," the complaint alleged. It also said clinic staff were slow in calling 911 for emergency help.
The malpractice case was filed by Rivers' only child, her daughter Melissa, in New York state Supreme Court seeking unspecified compensatory and punitive damages. It names Yorkville, its parent company and five physicians as defendants.
"The level of medical mismanagement, incompetence, disrespect and outrageous behavior is shocking and frankly, almost incomprehensible," Melissa Rivers said in a statement.
Yorkville Endoscopy declined comment on the lawsuit.
Earlier this month a government health agency, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, cited the Yorkville clinic for failing to follow standard protocols during its treatment of Rivers, including some lapses alleged by the lawsuit.
The clinic was given until March to correct its deficiencies or face revocation of its federal accreditation and funding.
Additional reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Eric Walsh