Closing Arguments Under Way in John Ritter Death Lawsuit

An attorney for John Ritter's family told jurors Wednesday that a cardiologist's failure to order a chest X-ray on the actor led to his death from a torn aorta, along with a radiologist's failure to adequately warn him two years earlier that he was in danger from an enlarged aorta.

The claim was made in closing arguments at the trial of a wrongful-death lawsuit in which Ritter's family is seeking $67 million in damages from the two doctors, whose lawyers say the physicians did nothing wrong.

"This is clearly a case of malpractice," said family attorney Moses Lebovits. "... It only takes common sense to know they should have taken a chest X-ray."

Lebovits said that had Ritter been properly diagnosed, "He would have had surgery. He would have been back at work. He would have survived with his humor and good wit and been entertaining us all."

Ritter died of an aortic dissection in 2003 at Providence St. Joseph Medical Center in Burbank, where he was taken after becoming ill while working on his hit TV show, "8 Simple Rules ... for Dating My Teenage Daughter."

Eight other medical personnel and the hospital have settled lawsuits. Ritter's widow, Amy Yasbeck, and his four children received $14 million from those cases.

Before Lebovits spoke, Superior Court Judge Laura Matz told the jury that lawyers for the radiologist, Dr. Matthew Lotysch, and the cardiologist, Dr. Joseph Lee, would claim that Ritter's death was caused by his own negligence in failing to follow instructions to seek medical assistance earlier.

Several times during his argument Lebovits returned to what he called a commonsense decision which would have been to take a chest X-ray of Ritter before Lee treated him for what appeared to be a heart attack.

"When we put our lives in the hands of doctors, we ask them to do one thing -- to do what they are taught to do. We don't ask for any heroism. ... All they had to do was one thing -- get the chest X-ray," Lebovits said.

Lebovits said of Lee: "He didn't do what he was taught to do. He rushed. There was no reason to rush. He (Ritter) wasn't crashing."

Testimony in the trial showed that a chest X-ray was ordered as soon as Ritter arrived at the emergency room but for unknown reasons it was never done. Lee was called in later in the evening after Ritter took a turn for the worse and was already diagnosed as having a heart attack.

Expert witnesses testified to the pros and cons of what was done, with the plaintiffs' witnesses saying a decision to conduct a balloon angioplasty was wrong.

Lebovits also argued that Lotysch should have told Ritter that he had an enlarged aorta after conducting the body scan two years before the actor's death.

Lotysch has testified he did not judge that the aorta was enlarged. But he said he did warn the actor that he had calcification in three coronary arteries and was at risk for heart disease. He said he told Ritter to consult a cardiologist or an internist. Other witnesses said Ritter never followed up.

Another plaintiffs lawyer, Michael Plonsker, reminded jurors of testimony from television executives about the millions Ritter could have made if his show had been renewed for seven seasons. Plonsker also said Ritter could have had additional millions in income from other theatrical appearances.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)