Famous Medical Malpractice Cases

It’s easy to look at famous people and think they have it all.

Looks, fame, money, and status. Who doesn’t want that? But look past the shiny exterior and of course, they’re human like everyone else. Human beings face illness, family difficulties, and sometimes even tragedy. Celebrities are no exception.

Trevor Noah smiling and sitting in his chair as he hosts the Daily Show.

Trevor Noah recently filed a lawsuit against his surgeon and hospital. See more below.

Medical malpractice is right behind heart disease and cancer as the third leading cause of death. Celebrities are no more immune to medical malpractice than they are to the sickness that brought them to the hospital to begin with. Sure, they have access to the most acclaimed doctors and facilities, but money can’t buy everything. There’s still medication mix ups, botched surgeries, and human error, even for society’s elite.

Keep reading to hear about celebrity medical care gone wrong, and what they did to seek justice.

Side note: If you think you have a medical malpractice case, find out here.

Julie Andrews

Image of Julie Andrews in the movie Mary Poppins

You may know her as Mary Poppins, or Maria von Trapp, two iconic roles that made her famous. For decades, Julie Andrews has graced cinema with her talent. She brought songs like “The Hills Are Alive” and “A Spoonful Of Sugar” into the world with the soprano voice most people know her by.

But in 1997, everything changed. Andrews’ went in for a throat procedure to remove non-cancerous nodules on her vocal cords. A typically low risk  procedure stole away one of Andrews’ most precious assets — her ability to sing.

The lawsuit which was filed in Manhattan, against Mt. Sinai Hospital, alleged that the surgery, which is quite routine for singers, was botched.

It’s hard to put a price tag on the thing that’s brought you fame and fortune but this is what Andrews’ had to say about it, “Singing has been a cherished gift, and my inability to sing has been a devastating blow.”

Her voice has never truly recovered, stealing potential roles, and earnings but fortunately Andrews’ has moved on with her life, and was able to receive the compensation she deserved though a lawsuit.

Quaid Babies

Photo of Dennis and Kimberly Quaid

Double the trouble but double the sweetness… They say you can never fully prepare yourself for twins, but in the end, it’s worth it. Well that end nearly came decades too early for the Quaid family.

For Dennis Quaid (you may remember him from the famous “Parent Trap,” “The Rookie,” or “The Good Stuff”) the birth of his twins turned into a complicated medical emergency, practically overnight. In 2007, Quaid and his wife Kimberly welcomed twins Thomas and Zoe via surrogate. Days later they diagnosed the twins: staph infections. While receiving treatment at Cedars Sinai Medical Center, the hospital gave the twins a nearly lethal dose of Heparin (a blood thinner). Instead of giving the 10 units of Heparin the doctor ordered, they gave each child 10,000 units. This happened not once, but twice.

The babies were black and blue, and bleeding out.

Not only did the hospital staff fail to notice they administered the wrong dose, the manufacturer of the medication refused to correct the process, even after they repeated the same mistake with their products.

Turns out the label for 10 units is nearly identical to the label for 10,000 units, and without taking another glance nurses grabbed the wrong one.

According to U.S. Pharmacopeia: “Between 2001 and 2006 more than 16,000 heparin errors were blamed on incorrect dosing.”

The Quaid twins became victims, failed by the manufacturer, the pharmacy technician, and the nursing staff. Thankfully both children survived and now appear to be just as healthy as anyone else their age.

Quaid believes the near tragedy is going “to raise public awareness and to get something done about computerized record keeping and bar coding in hospitals. That’s going to save lives—a lot of lives.”

The Quaids filed a lawsuit against the hospital and won $750,000 in compensation.

Joan Rivers

Black and white photo of Joan Rivers, when she was young.

Famous for her vivacious personality and somewhat controversial comedy, Joan Rivers made people laugh for over fifty years.

She worked heavily in the entertainment industry and even co-starred on the show “Fashion Police” until she passed on, 81 years in.

What was meant to be a simple outpatient procedure ended with Joan losing her life to medical malpractice. Hospitals perform tens of millions of endoscopies each year. Why did this one go so wrong?

According to Rivers’ daughter Melissa, the doctors at Yorkville Endoscopy were grossly negligent. They performed a laryngoscopy in addition to the endoscopy, but nobody had consented to this additional procedure. The physicians at Yorkville took the liberty of performing a procedure that neither Joan Rivers nor her family had agreed to.

Not only that, the anesthesiologist on duty warned against the procedure because she was concerned about her patient’s oxygen levels. And that’s exactly what happened. A loss of oxygen led to brain damage and ultimately her death.

Adding insult to injury, one of the doctors took a selfie of Joan while she was on the table having the procedure. Unprofessional? We think so.

In the end, Joan’s family received an undisclosed compensation for her untimely death.

Dana Carvey

Photo of Dana Carvey smiling.

Can you imagine the emotional stress a person must go through before having open heart surgery? Just wrapping your head around what’s about to happen and what your odds of recovery are. As if that’s not stressful enough, how would you feel if you found out that your doctor performed surgery on the wrong artery, and you may need to do it again?

WHAT? For the famous comedian Dana Carvey, this actually happened.

When the surgery was over, he thought the worst was behind him and he could move on with his life and career. Soon after he began experiencing the same symptoms he had prior to surgery. And then, they discovered the mistake.

This is what Carvey had to say about it,”I remember just lying in my bed just sobbing, I can’t believe they connected it to the wrong artery. I was absolutely just terrified that I was going to have another open heart surgery,” he said.

Fortunately he didn’t have to experience open heart surgery again, but did require an angioplasty to clear the blocked artery.

Dana Carvey ended up settling his $7.5 million dollar lawsuit. What’s even more amazing is that Carvey donated all of his earnings to charity! So happy ending for this one, sort of.

Elvis Presley

Black and white picture of a young, half-smiling Elvis Presley.

It was August 16, 1977. Elvis Presley’s girlfriend Ginger Alden found Presley passed out on the bedroom floor. Later at the hospital, the King of Rock was pronounced dead. A few days later, Chief Medical Examiner Jerry Francisco said the cause of death was a coronary issue, not drugs. But that doesn’t seem quite right, does it?

Well, many believe Elvis Presley died because his doctor, George Nichopoulos, was negligent. Later on they found at least 14 prescription drugs in his body. Depressants AND stimulants. They may have caused his death. They were in his system when he died, after all.

He had over-prescribed highly addictive drugs to many patients. And he apparently did the same with Presley: “Nichopoulos was indicted on 14 counts of overprescribing stimulants, depressants and painkillers for not only Presley, but also the singer Jerry Lee Lewis and 12 other patients.” (Source: UCR) Yikes.

Now, you might think Presley’s family could file a malpractice lawsuit against the doctor, or a wrongful death lawsuit. But there are no records of such a case. Nichopoulos did lose his license though, when the Board of Medical Examiners found him guilty of malpractice. Justice served.

Trevor Noah

Trevor Noah smiling and sitting in his chair as he hosts the Daily Show.

The comedian and “Daily Show” host Trevor Noah recently claimed to be a victim of medical malpractice. He filed a lawsuit against his doctor, HSS and Williams III, and his hospital, with some serious allegations.

Noah’s complaint claims the hospital staff was “negligent and careless in failing to treat and care for [him] in a careful and skillful manner.”

The complaint states that this negligence caused him to “sustain permanent, severe and grievous injuries.” It also states that he “sustained severe and painful personal injuries, sustained severe nervous shock, mental anguish, severe emotional distress and great physical pain.”

According to Noah, he was “confined to bed and home for a long period of time”, suffered a “loss of enjoyment of life,” and couldn’t perform the duties of his job for a long time. And not only that, he’s still suffering because the injuries appear to be permanent. His complaint notes “he will continue to suffer similar damages in the future,” as the injuries are “of a permanent nature.”

As of the time of this writing, Noah hasn’t spoken publicly about the surgery, and the outcome remains to be seen.

Bill Paxton

Image of Bill Paxton smiling at the camera with a dark background.

Bill Paxton’s case is one of the most recent of the famous medical malpractice lawsuits out there. The Titanic actor underwent heart surgery on February 14, 2017. Sadly, he suffered a stroke 11 days after the operation and died. Paxton’s family believed that the stroke was due to the doctor’s unconventional and negligent approach to the surgery.

About a year later, the family filed a wrongful death suit against the doctor and hospital. The family claimed that the surgeon’s high-risk surgery led to certain complications. These include excessive bleeding, cardiogenic shock, and a compromised coronary artery. They alleged that these complications directly contributed to Paxton’s stroke.

Interestingly, the case is still ongoing (more below). The hospital’s defense attorneys wanted to avoid “an expensive and time-consuming litigation.” So they agreed to $1 million. And that’s where we’re at currently – Paxton’s family reached a partial settlement in 2022, for $1 million.

Now, as riveting as the stories above are, there’s many other famous malpractice lawsuits, many of which are just as interesting.

Here’s a few of them:

Picture of Hulk Hogan in suit testifying in court.

Hulk Hogan: Sued for malpractice involving unnecessary spine surgery.

Photo of John Ritter

John Ritter: Family sued hospital for wrongful death.

Black and white photo of Andy Warhol.

Andy Warhol: Doctors overloaded him with fluids.

Photo of Michael Jackson in his youth.

Michael Jackson: Doctor helped him overdose on a cocktail of drugs including propofol.

Final Thoughts

Believe it or not, every one of these lawsuits fell under one of the following types.

The Most Common Forms Of Medical Malpractice Cases

  • Errors in surgery
  • Anesthesia mistakes
  • Misdiagnosis
  • Drug errors
  • Delayed diagnosis
  • Failure to treat
  • Infection errors
  • Birth injuries

Even the most well known malpractice cases in the world tend to fall into one of these categories. These types are common for a reason. Certain mistakes are easier to make than others.

And another easy mistake to make, is not pursuing justice.

Whether you’re famous or not, everyone endures difficult situations in one way or another. If there’s one difference from celebrities and everyone else, it’s this. Oftentimes, people without fame, power or wealth don’t realize they can fight for justice too.

Like the Quaid twins or Dana Carvey, we can use our stories to help others. Whether you’re fighting for change or seeking compensation for malpractice, each one of us deserves the same opportunity.

If you or your family has been a victim of malpractice please reach out to us or a law firm in your area.