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Medical Malpractice Happens to Celebrities – Part I

December 14, 2020

Medical malpractice occurs when a hospital, physician, or other healthcare worker causes an injury to a patient by a negligent act or omission. The negligence may be from mistakes in diagnosis, treatment, aftercare, or health management.

Medical errors can happen to anyone, including well-known celebrities, athletes, and performers. Let’s look at our first set of three groups of celebrities that have experienced problems with medical procedures and pursued litigation for medical malpractice. These actors went to the hospital for surgery and left worse than when they arrived—some even died as a result of medical mistakes.

Dana Carvey

The Saturday Night Live alum who made his characters the Church Lady and Garth Algar of “Wayne’s World” into household names is one of the most notable victims of medical malpractice. Requiring heart surgery in 1997, Carvey was slated to have a common coronary artery bypass operation that’s performed a half a million times a year with an overall success rate of almost 98%. But after his operation, Carvey felt unwell and couldn’t work. Carvey underwent multiple subsequent surgeries to try determine what was wrong. It wasn’t until the fourth angioplasty (performed by another surgeon) that he discovered that the first surgeon operated on the wrong artery. The blocked artery was deeply embedded in muscle and was difficult to locate. Another unblocked artery was clearly accessible… that was the one on which the first surgeon performed the bypass. Carvey couldn’t take on any movie roles or perform his stand-up for several years, so he brought a malpractice lawsuit and was awarded $7.5 million.

Dennis Quaid

Actor Dennis Quaid and his now ex-wife Kimberly welcomed fraternal twins, Thomas Boone and Zoe Grace, via surrogate in November 2007. When the infants were two weeks old, they developed staph infections and were given Heparin, a blood thinner at Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles. However, the hospital gave the babies a dose of Heparin that were 1000 times greater than appropriate. The reason was that the hospital pharmacy provided the adult doses of Heparin to the pediatric unit. When the Quaids called the hospital to check on their babies’ condition, they were told that Thomas and Zoe were fine—despite the fact that the hospital was treating the babies for the Heparin overdose! Finally, the hospital told the Quaids that their newborns were in critical condition when they arrived at the hospital the following day. The hospital exacerbated their error by trying to cover it up. Thomas and Zoe stayed in intensive care for nearly two weeks.

“It turned their blood to the consistency of water,” Dennis Quaid said in an interview years later. “The danger would be rupturing an artery. And they were so small they couldn’t thrash around. I think that’s what saved them.”

Thomas and Zoe eventually recovered, and the Quaids reached a $750,000 settlement against Cedars-Sinai in late 2008.

Julie Andrews

Perhaps the most beloved actress of all time, Andrews is most famous for her role as Maria in “The Sound of Music.” She made the role iconic with the songs “Do-Re-Mi,” “Edelweiss,” and “My Favorite Things.” She also starred as Mary Poppins and won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance. Undoubtedly, her most valuable asset was her singing voice. However, she underwent surgery at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York for minor surgery to remove nodules near her vocal cords in 1997. Sadly, the surgery went wrong. Andrews claimed the procedure was performed on both sides of her vocal cords when there were no nodules and nothing was wrong on one side. This error resulted in permanent damage to her voice. It’s now raspy, and she’s unable to sing. The case was settled in 2000. To this day, Andrews has not sung professionally again.

John Ritter

Ritter, who was first known as the son of the singing cowboy star Tex Ritter, skyrocketed to fame for his role as Jack Tripper in the 1980’s comedy, “Three’s Company.” Ritter performed in more than 100 films and TV shows, as well as on Broadway. At the time of his death in 2003, he was starring on a show called “8 Simple Rules.” Ritter suffered from an enlarged aorta, which was misdiagnosed when he underwent a CT scan two years prior to his death. Ritter suffered an aortic dissection, a tear in the largest blood vessel in the body. His wife, actress Amy Yasbeck, brought a medical malpractice case alleging that John’s cause of death was the failure of surgeons at Providence St. Joseph Medical Center to diagnose aortic dissection. The hospital staff instead treated him for a heart attack.

Bill Paxton

The wonderful actor and all-around good guy Bill Paxton died at the age of 61 on February 2017. He was the star of “Twister,” “Apollo 13,” and the HBO drama series “Big Love.” By all accounts, he was a real pro and pleasure to work with. Paxton succumbed to a stroke at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles after undergoing open-heart surgery to correct an aortic aneurysm and replace a faulty heart valve. The surgery looked to be successful, but the actor passed away 11 days later. The coroner determined that he died from a stroke after surgery-related complications.

Paxton’s family filed a lawsuit against the hospital alleging that the surgeon used “high risk and unconventional surgical approach with which he lacked experience.” The lawsuit was based on the surgeon misrepresenting or concealing “information regarding to the risk of surgery.” Paxton and his family weren’t fully apprised of the risks involved with the procedure. The lawsuit alleged that the errors by the surgical team contributed to Paxton’s complications after the operation. The family’s complaint claimed that the hospital and surgeons were negligent in their diagnosis, management, treatment, and care of Paxton—and failed to disclose that the surgeon would be using unconventional surgical approaches and didn’t have the experience and training necessary to perform the procedure.


As you can see, even actors with Academy Awards or hit TV shows can be the victim of medical malpractice. Medical mistakes and resulting injury can happen to anyone.

If you or a loved one have suffered an injury or death in surgery, you may bring a lawsuit for damages. A plaintiff must show that the doctor failed to provide a reasonable standard of care, and that caused the patient to suffer physical injury and/or financial losses from the negligence.

For a free consultation with an experienced injury attorney in Grand Rapids, contact Buchanan Firm. We can discuss your situation if you believe you’ve been injured as the result of a medical error.

Our firm proudly serves people all across Michigan, including major cities like Grand Rapids, Muskegon, Detroit, Lansing, Holland, St. Joe, and Ann Arbor, and rural towns such as Lowell, Ada, Fremont, Newaygo, Grand Haven, Rockford, and Cedar Springs. We will meet you after-hours, at home or in the hospital to accommodate you.

Contact us today!