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10 Most Famous Celebrity Medical Malpractice Cases

While medical mistakes occur all the time (now the 3rd leading cause of death in the United States), some of these errors are so outrageous they become famous. While recent studies put the number of preventable deaths from medical malpractice at 250,000-400,000, few of these mistakes make the news.  

Medical malpractice is a complex field of law. It interacts with law, medicine, academics, technology, advocacy, and evidentiary issues in ways that few genres of the law touch. 

Although medicine is not an exact science, there are parameters for the practice of medicine and nursing to which health care providers must adhere. Sadly, there are many instances where that is not the case. 

It may involve a competent practitioner who makes a mistake, or an incompetent provider who is a danger to all patients. Either way, the damage can be catastrophic.

Fame and fortune do not guarantee freedom from medical malpractice. In fact, many famous people have been killed or seriously injured from negligent medical care. These medical mistakes include:

  • Misdiagnosis
  • Surgical mistakes
  • Medication errors
  • Medical cover-ups after a mistake is discovered
  • Unauthorized procedures
  • Hospital infections
  • Overprescribing of narcotics

While these medical mistakes happen every day to people, when they are done to celebrities it gets a lot of attention.

Here are a few that illustrate the point:

1. Dana Carvey

Dana Carvey medical malpractice case
image via: people.com

Dana Carvey, the beloved comedian and actor who got his start on Saturday Night Live was one of the most famous victims of medical malpractice.  In 1997 he needed heart surgery, a common coronary artery bypass operation that is performed 500,000 times a year. 

After the surgery Carvey did not feel well and was unable to work.  He had several surgeries to try determine what was wrong.  It wasn’t until the fourth angioplasty, by a different doctor, that Carvey learned that the surgeon bypassed the wrong artery.  Unable to work for several years, Carvey brought a malpractice case, which resulted in a $7.5 million award. 

2. Dennis and Kimberly Quaid’s Twins

Dennis Quaid twins malpractice case
image via: lifedaily

Actor Dennis Quaid and his wife Kimberly gave birth to twin babies in November 2007. When they were two weeks old, the twins developed staph infections.

The treatment included giving the twins Heparin, a blood thinner. The hospital gave the babies Heparin, but a dose by 1000 times greater than what is appropriate because the hospital pharmacy technicians provided adult doses of the medication to the pediatric unit.

When the Quaids called the hospital to check on their babies’ condition, they were reassured and told they were fine even while the hospital was emergently treating them for the overdose.

The hospital didn’t tell Mr. and Mrs. Quaid until they came to the hospital the next day.  Then they found out that their beautiful babies were in critical condition due to the overdose. 

The hospital compounded their grossly negligent medical mistake by trying to cover it up. The babies were in intensive care for almost two weeks and eventually recovered.  The Quaid’s lawsuit against the hospital was settled for $750,000.

3. Julie Andrews

Julie andrews malpractice case
image via: wnycstudios

One of the most beloved actressesever is Julie Andrews, most famous for her role in “The Sound of Music.”  Her greatest asset was her singing voice, displayed beautifully in that role as well as “Mary Poppins” and on Broadway in “My Fair Lady” and “Camelot.” In 1997 she underwent surgery at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York for minor surgery to remove nodules near her vocal cords.

The surgery was botched, and Andrews claimed it was performed on both sides when there was nothing wrong with one side at all. It caused permanent damage to her voice, leaving her voice raspy and unable to sing. The case was settled in 2000 and she never sang professionally again.

4. Joan Rivers

Joan Rivers medical malpractice case - famous medical malpractice cases
image via: biography.com

Comedian Joan Rivers was outspoken and funny. Beginning on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, Rivers eventually had her own talk show and a successful stand-up comedy and television career.

She was the star of Fashion Police and was a jewelry designer making a substantial income. Her career was going strong when she went in for what was called a routine endoscopy in New York in 2014. The endoscopy was performed in an outpatient setting. 

During the surgery Rivers had a heart attack and died from complications. Her daughter Melissa brought a malpractice case that claimed the doctors at the clinic mishandled Rivers’ endoscopy and performed another procedure, known as a laryngoscopy, on Rivers’ vocal cords without consent.

Rivers’ lawsuit said that an anesthesiologist voiced concern over what the procedure would do to Rivers’ ability to breathe, but was told she was being “paranoid” by the gastroenterologist performing the endoscopy.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, a federal agency, performed an investigation that found several errors, including failing to keep proper medication records and snapping cellular phone photos.

The clinic also failed to obtain informed consent for every procedure performed and failed to record Rivers’ weight before administering sedation medication. The case was settled in 2015.

5. Hulk Hogan

Hulk Hogan, legally known as Terry Gene Bollea, was a famous professional wrestler. He was also a recognized television, movie and commercial actor and is one of the most recognized celebrities in America. 

He had severe back pain and intended to have traditional surgery to improve his pain. He ended up at Laser Spine Institute. He was led to believe that this would cure his problem, and he was unable to work for almost two years. 

It did not cure him, and he claimed it made his back worse and that they were unnecessary procedures. He also claimed that these procedures left him unable to wrestle. To make matters worse, without his permission they used Hulk Hogan’s likeness to promote the Institute. He sued the Institute in 2013.

6. John Ritter

John Ritter medical negligence case
Image via: comingsoon.net

John Ritter became well known as a comedic and serious actor in shows such as “Three’s Company.” At the time of his death in 2003 he was on a show called “8 Simple Rules.”  He had starred in many television shows and movies and was a respected actor.

Ritter suffered from an enlarge aorta, which was missed when he underwent a CT scan 2 years before he died.  He suffered an aortic dissection, a tear in the largest blood vessel in the body. 

His wife brought a medical malpractice case claiming that the cause of his death was the failure of medical professionals at Providence St. Joseph Medical Center to diagnose aortic dissection. Instead they treated him as if he had a heart attack.

7. Kylie Minogue

Kylie Minogue malpractice case file
image via: her.ie

Pop singer Kylie Minogue developed breast cancer, which was widely reported. She underwent treatment and she declared that she was cancer-free.

It was later revealed that the star was originally misdiagnosed and was incorrectly given the all-clear before starting on an intensive concert tour. Midway through her 57 concert tour she was stopped in her tracks. “I was misdiagnosed initially,” she said. “So my message is… because someone is in a white coat and using big medical instruments doesn’t necessarily mean they are right. If you have any doubt, go back again.” 

8. Dick Schaap

Famous medical malpractice cases - Dick Schaap
image via: YouTube

To sports fans, Dick Schaap was a household name.  He was a legendary sports  writer and broadcaster for decades, beloved in his field. In 2001 he underwent routine hip replacement surgery in New York at Lenox Hill Hospital. 

During the admission he contracted an infection at the hospital and died three months later at the age of  67.  Schaap’s widow Tina filed a lawsuit, and a jury found the doctors negligent and awarded $1.9 million.  

9. Ed McMahon

Johnny Carson malpractice case
image via: military.com

Johnny Carson’s longtime sidekick on The Tonight Show, Ed McMahon sued a hospital, two doctors and an investment tycoon over an injury he says left him unable to work. McMahon for many years made a substantial income on endorsements and commercials. Cedars Sinai Hospital is said to have discharged him without spotting that he had broken his neck in a fall.

10. Freddie Prinze

Freddie Prinze malpractice death
image via: YouTube

At age 22, Freddie Prinze was an actor and comedian. He starred in the show Chico and the Man and had established himself as a young TV star. Having faced depression for years, he committed suicide by gunshot.

His family sued Prinze’s psychiatrist and internist for malpractice. The family alleged that the internist overprescribed Quaaludes to him and his psychiatrist “first took away and then returned the .32-caliber pistol with which Prinze shot himself.”  The doctors denied malpractice but the case was settled for almost $1 million in 1981. He was the father of actor Freddie Prinze, Jr.

Bonus…medical mistakes are so common we couldn’t limit the list to ten. 

11. Andy Warhol

The artist Andy Warhol was a worldwide star celebrity as well as creative force. By his own admission he was “afraid of hospitals and had a premonition he would die in one.” In 1987 he did in fact die in one after routine gallstone and hernia surgery. 

His death at age 58 resulted in a lawsuit by his estate, which sued New York Hospital claiming Warhol died due to negligent care. The hospital settled with the estate in 1991 for a confidential amount.

Conclusion

While the list of celebrity medical mistakes is far from complete, one thing should be clear: fame and fortune does not protect even the biggest stars from medical malpractice.  If these stars get treated this way, what makes us think that we won’t be victims?

Indeed, as the third leading cause of death, medical mistakes occur with shocking frequency.  The studies of the past few years prove that medical mistakes are very common.

It is always important to have someone with you when you go to the hospital or are being treated by a doctor.  Ask questions.  Find out what medication is being prescribed and why. Ask whether the medications might have serious side effects or interact with each other.  There are several things you can do as a consumer/patient to help protect yourself or a loved one.

Sadly, we have lost may great artists and celebrities to malpractice.  Hopefully by bringing their stories to light the level of care given to everyone will improve.

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