Trial begins over John Ritter's death

Other News Materials 12 February 2008 04:55 (UTC +04:00)
Trial begins over John Ritter's death

( AP )- A lawyer for John Ritter's family told a jury Monday that he would show doctors caused the actor's death by an improper diagnosis and substandard treatment. "What you'll hear, ladies and gentleman, is that ... they did everything wrong," attorney Moses Lebovits said in his opening statement at the trial in Los Angeles County Superior Court.

Ritter died of a tear in the aorta, known as an aortic dissection, on Sept. 11, 2003, at Providence St. Joseph Medical Center in Burbank.

Ritter's relatives say he was instead mistakenly treated for a heart attack, and they are suing two doctors for $67 million. The lawsuit follows settlements with the hospital and eight other medical personnel for about $14 million.

At the time of his death, Ritter was 54 and the star of the ABC series "8 Simple Rules ... For Dating My Teenage Daughter." The award-winning star of the sitcom "Three's Company" had a varied career, with credits ranging from TV's "The Waltons" to the 1996 movie "Sling Blade."

Amy Yasbeck, Ritter's widow, wept during parts of Lebovits' opening statement.

Lebovits claimed that a radiologist, Dr. Matthew Lotysch, failed to give Ritter warning of his purportedly enlarged aorta two years before he died, and that Dr. Joseph Lee, the cardiologist called to Ritter's side the night of his death, failed to order the proper tests to diagnose his condition.

Central to the case is the claim that Lee failed to have a chest X-ray done before treating Ritter for what appeared to be a heart attack.

"Because they didn't get the chest X-ray, they gave him the wrong treatment," said Lebovits.

Had Ritter been treated properly, Lebovits said, the actor would have undergone surgery that night and recovered in six to eight weeks, and his life expectancy would not have been affected.

In a defense opening statement, attorney Stephen Fraser, who represents Lotysch, told jurors that neither of the doctors being sued was responsible for Ritter's death.

Nothing could have been done to prevent Ritter's demise because body scans showed his aorta was of normal size and showed no sign that it would dissect, Fraser said.

"Dr. Lee did not save John Ritter's life, but he did not kill him," Fraser said. "There was nothing that could have been done to save Mr. Ritter's life."

The defense attorney said Lee did what was required for someone having a heart attack - which was what appeared to be happening to Ritter when Lee joined the case.

Actor Henry Winkler had been expected to testify Monday but left the courthouse as defense opening statements continued into the late afternoon.