Jury finds John Ritter’s doctors blameless in $67 million wrongful death lawsuit

March 17, 2008

A radiologist and a cardiologist have been cleared of negligence in the diagnosis and treatment of actor John Ritter, whose family brought a $67 million wrongful death suit against the two physicians.

A radiologist and a cardiologist have been cleared of negligence in the diagnosis and treatment of actor John Ritter, whose family brought a $67 million wrongful death suit against the two physicians.

Ritter, 54, died of an aortic dissection in 2003. Two years earlier, radiologist Dr. Matthew Lotysch had performed a whole-body CT scan on him. During the trial, based in Glendale, CA, Lotysch testified that he did not consider Ritter's aorta to be enlarged based on the results.

Lotysch did warn the actor, however, that he had blocked coronary arteries and was at risk for heart disease. He urged Ritter to consult a cardiologist or an internist, Lotysch said. Other witnesses testified that Ritter ignored the radiologist's advice

In September 2003, Ritter collapsed on the set of the ABC sitcom "8 Simple Rules ... for Dating My Teenage Daughter" and was rushed to Providence St. Joseph Medical Center in Burbank, CA. He was treated for a heart attack but ultimately died of a torn aorta.

According to trial testimony, a chest x-ray had been ordered as soon as Ritter arrived in the emergency room, but it was never done. The Ritter family attorney said if the x-ray exam had taken place, the actor would have undergone the proper treatment for a torn aorta.

But the attorney for codefendant cardiologist Dr. Joseph Lee argued that the actor arrived at the hospital in grave condition and that Lee was constrained for time to keep Ritter alive.

The trial began in February and lasted a little over a month. The jury started deliberating on Thursday and reached its nine to three verdict in favor of the doctors one and a half days later. Eight other medical personnel and the hospital settled earlier lawsuits with Ritter's widow and children, who received $14 million each.

Ritter won an Emmy for his portrayal of Jack Tripper in the popular 1970s sitcom "Three's Company."

For more information from the Diagnostic Imaging archives:

Malpractice awards vary widely for thoracic/GI imaging

Cardiac CT studies pose questions on clinical role