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Jury Selection Begins in John Ritter’s Medical Negligence Trial

Posted by Jane Akre
Tuesday, February 05, 2008 1:33 PM EST
Category: On The Road, Major Medical, Protecting Your Family, In The Workplace
Tags: Wrongful Death, Medical Negligence Medical Malpractice and Negligent Care

A high profile trial in Los Angeles over the late actor John Ritter. His family says he would be alive today if he had received the proper medical care.  

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The late actor, John Ritter, died on his daughter’s fifth birthday, on September 11, 2003.

His widow, Amy Yasbeck tells the Los Angeles Times that she told Stella that her father's death was unavoidable because that’s what she had been told. She came to change her mind.

Jury selection is set to begin today in the Los Angeles wrongful death trial concerning the medical treatment of the late actor, John Ritter.

At question is whether Ritter, 54, would have lived had he been diagnosed correctly and received the correct treatment for his heart abnormality known as aortic dissection.

The family wants $67 million dollars from the two doctors involved –one who delivered emergency room care as if the actor were having a heart attack—the other for not properly diagnosing his genetic condition.

"One would imagine that having a doctor treating you would increase your chances of survival rather than decrease them," said lawyers for Ritter's family. 

Ritter, died after being taken to the emergency room at Providence St. Joseph Medical Center in Burbank from the set of his sitcom “8 Simple Rules For Dating My Teenage Daughter.” 

He complained of chest pain and nausea. He died a few hours later in the same hospital in which he was born.

Ritter, son of Western star, Tex Ritter, already had high cholesterol and a condition aortic dissection, which is a tear in the aorta. A rupture resulting from aortic dissection has about an 80 percent mortality rate. 

Around 7:15 p.m. a test showed abnormalities doctors thought was consistent with a heart attack so Dr. Joseph Lee ordered the standard treatment, anti-coagulants. That treatment can exacerbate symptoms of aortic dissection.  Then cardiac catherization was ordered, but during the procedure Ritter’s aortic dissection was found. His condition worsened.  He was pronounced dead at 10:48p.m. No autopsy was performed.

Attorneys say those procedures are the “exact opposite” of what someone with a heart abnormality would have undergone and likely decreased Ritter’s chances for survival.

The treating doctor, cardiologist Dr. Lee ordered a chest x-ray, but for some inexplicable reason it was not done. Lawyers say an x-ray would have shown the enlarged aorta and surgery could have saved him.

The suit, filed in Superior Court, names the radiologist Matthew Lotysch and cardiologist Joseph Lee for negligence. The doctors are defending their actions.  

Two years prior to his death, Ritter had a full-body scan. Dr. Lotysch found no abnormality in his aorta. Lawyers say he should have noted the aorta was enlarged. Defense will say it was not enlarged at the time.

Lotysch’s lawyer says the radiologist encouraged Ritter to follow up with a cardiologist on calcifications he found in Ritter’s coronary arteries, but Ritter did not.

Ritter’s widow, Amy Yasbeck, previously sued the hospital and nine other medical entities and received a reported $14 million settlement including nine million from the hospital.

The trial will also highlight how much a Hollywood life is worth. Expect dueling executives to calculate that publicly.  At the time of his death, Ritter was making $75,000 per episode of his show. After seven years and syndication that would total $67 million say lawyers.

Ritter had been an actor since 1968 and had a series of successful shows including Three’s Company.”  

On the Today show Monday, Yasbeck said if successful, she and Ritter’s four children intend to use the money for the John Ritter Foundation for Aortic Health, to educate the public about aortic dissection disease. Based on John’s experience his brother, Tommy, discovered he too had aortic dissection. Surgery corrected the condition.

Yasbeck says she hopes in the future heart patients should refer to Ritter in a proactive way in communicating to doctors to determine whether they too have aortic dissection. #


6 Comments

Anonymous User
Posted by Michelle
Tuesday, February 05, 2008 8:11 PM EST

Amy Yasbeck and her lawyers should be ashamed of herself. Seeking so much money from a hospital and/or physicians is inexcuseable. What does she hope to accomplish by sueing the very people who tried to save her husband's life? Not only does it not bring Ritter back, but it takes money and resources from others who need help. If she is looking for resposiblity and blame, she should turn to God. Physicians do their very best to care for the patients they encounter and it is not always an exact science. I am not a very religious person and I feel for the Ritter family and their grief, but wrongfull-death lawsuits should not be allowed to exist.

Anonymous User
Posted by chris
Wednesday, February 06, 2008 1:18 PM EST

I survived an Aortic Dissection a little more than a year ago and only did so because of the excellent medical care that I received from the 1st responders, doctors, and nurses that I had. Of course the fact that I sought help in the first place (you know how mem can be)was the first decision that saved my life.

The recovery was long, difficult, and took most of the year, but with the tremendous support of my wife I am now back to about 98% of where I was pre dissection.

With that said I am not sure how I feel about this legal action and the amount of money being asked for by the Ritter family. When I was told of my condition I had never heard of it, nor had my wife and family, so if the money is used to bring awareness to Aortic Dissections then that is a good thing. I am not sure that the money will be used for that however. It seems like if the family were actually going to start the foundation, then they would have used some of the money they have already gotten from the hospital to do so. I am not saying they haven't or that they want if they win the case, but I have been hearing about this foundation for nearly a year, but nothing of what it is actually doing to help bring awareness to this condition.

In the end if the media coverage of the trail (because of the Ritter name) brings attention to Aortic Dissections, how it is diagnosed, and how it is treated then maybe there will be more people like me (survivers) and less people like John Ritter (non-survivers)! Time will tell how this will play out but my prediction is that some money will be awarded, not the fully amount being asked for, and that the Ritter Foundation will never take shape for various reasons.


I hope that I am wrong so other can join me in the survivers club, time will tell!

Anonymous User
Posted by Jane Akre
Wednesday, February 06, 2008 4:11 PM EST

Hi Chris-

I'm glad you were properly diagnosed and got the correct medical care. Were you initially diagnosed as having a heart attack? Were you given anti-coagulants? Did they do a cath on you? I would think this would be the WORSE thing you could do to someone who was bleeding out. But I guess lawyers will have to prove that at trial.

How were you initially diagnosed? Sounds like you were lucky. And yes, there needs to more education. Yasbeck says she wants the Ritter name to be synonymous with AD... not a bad thing.

Thanks for writing!
Jane A.

Anonymous User
Posted by Patti
Monday, February 11, 2008 3:06 PM EST

I started having chest pain on Christmas day 2006. I went to the emergency room right down the street,St. Josephs, where they did an ekg and found nothing. So they gave me some vicodin and sent me home, told me to follow up with my regular doctor.
He also, did an ekg and found nothing, sent me home with more vicodin. Five days after my initial emergency room visit the pain had worsened so I checked myself in again. Lucky for me I have a lot of experience with doctors and emergency rooms. I let the attending know that I didn't intend to leave until they figured it out - I had what was later termed an angina attack while my blood pressure was being monitered and again while they were doing an ekg. They still found nothing. I was in the hospital for 4 days before they figured out what was going on with me. Ekg's, xrays, even the heart monitor that I wore for 4 days all failed to show anything. When I
finally went to see a cardiologist for a stress test he treated me very poorly, so much so that I demanded that he leave the room. In hindsight I have to thank him for pissing me off enough for the stress test to show a little something. I credit a very on the ball nurse who was paying close attention for saving my life. She went to get a more experienced, more pleasant Cardiologist to see me, he diagnosed me correctly in 2 minutes - I got 4 stents that day. I had both good and bad experiences with the staff/doctors at St. Josephs, as I would have at any other hospital anywhere in Los Angeles. I have had the distinct pleasure of being a patient at most all of them. I understand the family's frustration with the death of their loved one but bankrupting another hospital is not the way to bring about changes in how emergency room patients are diagnosed and treated neither will it bring about awareness. Better training for Cardiologists and better tools for admitting staff would go a much longer way in saving more lives.

Anonymous User
Posted by JJ
Tuesday, February 12, 2008 9:35 AM EST

People dont understand the situation

If John died of a heart attack while they were waiting for the results of an Xray the family would have also sued--as Heart attack is the number 1 cause of his symptoms.

Thats these peoples nature. People cant accept death..they need someone to blame. Obviously greed is a part of it when millions have already been won

They are not helping anyone but themselves.

Anonymous User
Posted by lyn
Wednesday, March 05, 2008 2:44 AM EST

Thats so rediculous to ask for that amt. of money (67 million) from the physicians who tried to saved her husbands life. Those doctors are just human being and for sure they tried there best to save Mr. Ritter's life. It would be scary to have Ms. Yasbeck as a pt. she don't have that concience and has no heart, for sure those doctors were there tried to help not to kill Mr. Ritter and they too has a family to feed and may be still student loans to pay. As you know how much hard work and sleepless nights they did just to be there for us who needs there expertise. I hope those jurors would understand.

Comments for this article are closed.

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