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Saturday, March 15th 2008

John Ritter Malpractice Suit Goes To The Physicians

I Don’t Think I’ve Ever Seen An Episode of Three’s Company

Back in 2003 John Ritter had chest pain while he was on the set of 8 Simple Rules…

Turns out he was suffering a dissection of his ascending aortic aneurysm. Although he made it to the hospital the dissecting aneurysm cost him his life. It was a tragedy. And of course, in many people’s imagination someone needed to pay for that tragedy. Which is why Ritter’s widow sued everyone in the phone book. And last year actually settled with a good number of them. Here are Kevin’s thoughts when the suit was filed.

However, today comes news that two other doctors and their insurance, who didn’t settle and took the suit to trial, have emerged victorious. One of them was a radiologist who performed a whole body scan on John Ritter a year before his AA claimed his life and the other was a cardiologist who was called into the hospital late that night, hours after Ritter had been admitted, once he took a turn for the worse.

Jurors said the majority believed the cardiologist summoned to the hospital after Ritter was diagnosed with a heart attack had no time to order a chest X-ray that might have found the tear.


Defense testimony characterized the aortic dissection as lethal and contended that even with surgery the outcome would have been the same.

As in all MSM reported malpractice cases we don’t know all the specifics. Aortic dissections are notoriously hard to diagnose and ascending ones (near where the aorta takes off from the heart) easily mimic heart attacks, which is what apparently his physician at the hospital thought he was suffering. One thing that I can’t imagine is that it took the hospital physicians and staff so long to get a chest x-ray on Ritter which certainly might’ve shown a widened mediastinum.

Testimony showed that an X-ray was ordered as soon as Ritter arrived at the emergency room but for unknown reasons it was never done.

Even with that though, all aortic dissections carry something like a 33% mortality rate (although most of that is attributable to the time to diagnose this very acute problem).

Without passing judgment on the verdict itself, I am a little worried by some apparent attitudes on the defense side.

“I disagree with the jury’s decision but I believe in the system and I respect it,” said the widow, Amy Yasbeck. “It inspires me even more to find, with these brilliant medical minds, a path to diagnose aortic diseases.”

If she admits the difficulty in diagnosing this condition why did she vehemently press on in her malpractice suits for more than a year? To force more aggressive defensive medicine in California ERs, in the hopes someone else’s dissecting aneurysm is caught earlier? I don’t know, it’s likely I’m reading her media reported comments out of context but that line that I italicized is certainly fishy.