Doctor settles with comedienne's estate

BRIDGEPORT, Conn. -- A Westport plastic surgeon who performed a face lift operation on the late comedienne Totie Fields and was blamed in a lawsuit for her death two years later has agreed to an $850,000 malpractice settlement.

Dr. William T. Keavy, who has offices in Stamford and New York City, admitted no liability in Ms. Fields' death when making the out-of-court settlement.


The agreement Tuesday brought to $1.6 million the total in out-of-court settlements with Ms. Fields' estate stemming from her face lift at St. Joseph's Hospital in Stamford.

'We're thrilled,' said attorney Stuart A. Schlesinger of New York, who represents George Johnston, Ms. Fields' husband and executor of her estate. The case was scheduled for jury trial in U.S. District Court in Bridgeport.

Johnston filed suit in 1978, blaming Keavy for his wife's death that year at age 48. When Ms. Fields entered the hospital in March 1976, she had been a diabetic for years and also suffered from vascular problems.

Shortly after Keavy performed the operation Ms. Fields suffered a heart attack and developed phlebitis, a vein inflammation, in her left leg, the suit claimed.

She was moved to Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in New York, where she had the leg amputated above the knee.


Ms. Fields planned a comeback and was to start an engagement Aug. 2, 1978, at the Sahara Hotel in Las Vegas when she died that day of another apparent heart attack.

Lawyers for her estate charged Keavy failed to provide Ms. Fields with proper care during her stay at St. Joseph's, was negligent in performing the face lift and failed to recognize the significance of her diabetes.

The estate blamed Keavy for Ms. Fields' subsequent health problems and, ultimately, her death.

But Keavy, 47, responded in a sworn statement that he advised the comedienne to lighten her schedule and rest before the operation. He also said he told her that diabetics may heal less quickly than other patients.

Ira Burns, Keavy's personal secretary, said Tuesday the plastic surgeon admitted no liability, 'but for other reasons and circumstances they felt it best to settle.' Malpractice insurance will cover the award, Burns said.

'To have a trial is an expensive thing, and (Keavy and his lawyers) felt there was no way (the case) could be won, so they decided to settle,' Burns said.

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