Joan River’s Anesthesiologist Faced Prior Medical Malpractice Suit

Ava Lawson | February 6th, 2015

medical malpractice justiceThe Daily News reported that the lead anesthesiologist in Joan River’s botched clinic visit, which led to her death, had been the target of a medical malpractice lawsuit back in 2005. According to the claim, Dr. Renuka Bankulla “… dispensed anesthesia during an epidural to (the mother) in an inadequate manner” at a Bronx hospital, where the decedent died while undergoing a C-section delivery. Bankulla and the Bronx Lebanon Hospital settled the case out of court for a reported $7 million.

The Indian born and NY trained anesthesiologist is also facing a multi-million dollar malpractice lawsuit in Manhattan, brought by Melissa Rivers on January 26, 2015 for her role in the untimely death of the famous comedian.

Elective surgery at Yorkville clinic ends in death

The lawsuit concerns what happened to Joan Rivers during a supposed “routine procedure” at Yorkville Endoscopy Center, a for-profit ambulatory care clinic. Suffering problems with acid reflux and a scratchy voice, Rivers was supposed to have her esophagus examined while under mild sedation.

According to attorneys for Melissa Rivers, Bankulla objected when the clinic’s medical director brought Dr. Gwen Korovin – River’s ear-nose-throat specialist – into the room. Bankulla’s concerns were dismissed as Korovin proceeded to take pictures and do a biopsy on Joan’s vocal cords.

The suit contends that Dr. Bankulla complained because Rivers was already sedated and had not authorized a biopsy prior to the procedure. Since she was unconscious, she couldn’t grant or deny permission at the time. Furthermore, celebrity voice specialist Korovin was not authorized to perform medical procedures at Yorkville Endoscopy Center.

The unscheduled and unauthorized biopsy was never a part of River’s original medical plan. As Korovin worked, Rivers’ larynx began to spasm, closing off vital oxygen supplies to her brain. She then began to suffer heart failure. The lawsuit claims that Bankulla attempted to put oxygen into her patient using a manual pump, but doctors failed to give Rivers a muscle relaxant that would have loosened her throat, and no one opened her trachea. Rivers died just seven days later at the age of 81.

The lawsuit raises questions not only of medical negligence but how ambulatory care clinics such as Yorkville contract self-employed anesthesiologists like Dr. Renuka Bankulla, who have previously been sued for malpractice.

“Ambulatory care centers need to have the same kind of oversight as hospitals have to insure that patients are treated properly,” said lawyers for Melissa Rivers.

Medical malpractice in New York

When pursuing a medical malpractice claim in New York, the patient or decedent’s family must prove that health care professionals deviated from the proper standard of care – the level and type of care that other, similarly-trained doctors would provide under the circumstances.

Here at The Sanders Firm, our trial attorneys have 45 years of combined experience pursuing medical malpractice lawsuits in New York, and have procured millions of dollars for clients. Our legal team is dedicated to obtaining maximum financial compensation for the pain and suffering and economic losses that victims sustain.

To find out more about your options for legal recourse, please call 1-800-FAIR-PLAY to schedule a free case review.


  1. NY Daily News, Lead anesthesiologist during Joan Rivers' procedure was target of 2005 malpractice suit http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/nyc-crime/doc-tied-rivers-death-previously-sued-malpractice-article-1.2094322

  2. The Washington Post, This is what we now know about the death of Joan Rivers http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/style-blog/wp/2014/09/10/this-is-what-we-now-know-about-the-death-of-joan-rivers/