John Ritter's Wrongful Death Trial to Begin

John Ritter's Wrongful Death Trial to Begin
John Ritter
CRAIG SJODIN/ABC

updated 01/24/2008 at 12:00 PM EST

originally published 01/24/2008 12:00PM

Come February, a Los Angeles County jury will consider actor John Ritter's 2003 death from a heart condition.

On one side is his widow, actress Amy Yasbeck, and Ritter's four children, who contend in their wrongful-death lawsuit that the actor's life could have been saved – and who collectively seek more than $67 million in damages, because of sitcom star Ritter's potential high earning power.

Already, the family has received more than $14 million in settlements, according to court records, reports the Los Angeles Times.

This includes $9.4 million from Providence St. Joseph Medical Center in Burbank, Calif., where the Three's Company and 8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter star, 54, died of an undetected aortic dissection (a tear in the largest blood vessel).

Defending themselves against the family's claims are two doctors: one who interpreted Ritter's 2001 body scan, and another who tended to the actor on the night he died.

The physicians' lawyers say their clients did nothing wrong. "I really, really believe that for whatever reason, John Ritter's time was up," attorney Stephen C. Fraser, who represents radiologist Matthew Lotysch, tells the Times.

Public Accounting

Yasbeck, Ritter's second wife (they married in 1999, a week after their daughter, Stella, was born), demands a public accounting of what happened to her husband. "You can't treat my kid's dad for something and kill him in the process," she tells the newspaper. "I think the money will show how angry the jury will be about what happened to John and what could happen to them."

Cardiologist Joseph Lee, claims Ritter's family, did not order a chest X-ray of the actor. Such an X-ray, the plaintiffs argue, would have shown Ritter's enlarged aorta, which would have mandated surgery that would have prevented his death.

But, citing Ritter's ominous vital signs, Lee's lawyer said his client saw that time was of the essence and ordered a catheterization for Ritter to remove possible blockages, rather than request more tests.

"I'm comfortable that a reasonable juror would understand that Dr. Lee was between a rock and a hard spot and had to make a judgment call," Lee's attorney, John McCurdy, tells the paper.

Heart Disease Awareness

Ritter met Yasbeck on the set of the 1990 movie comedy Problem Child, and the two began dating in 1994, about a year after Ritter separated from his first wife, Nancy Morgan, with whom he had three children: Jason, Carly and Tyler.

For her part, Yasbeck says that she hopes the public will be made aware of heart disease – despite the fact that her personal life and family bank account are about to be laid bare.

"It's never comfortable, but the idea of the awareness that this brings to the issue trumps that," she tells the Times. "My discomfort is nothing compared to people who are losing their family to aortic dissection. I can be uncomfortable for however long the trial goes. I'm ready."

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