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John Ritter's Death - Not the Doctors' Fault

Updated on November 23, 2008

A jury in Glendale, CA has declared that a radiologist and cardiologist who treated actor John Ritter on the day he died in 2003, were not negligent and not responsible for his death. Ritter's widow, actress Amy Yasbeck had filed the wrongful death suit, claiming that the physicians were negligent in not diagnosing and treating Ritter's rare heart condition when he was brought to the emergency room on September 11, 2003.

Suzanne Somers, John Ritter, and Joyce DeWitt in Three's Company
Suzanne Somers, John Ritter, and Joyce DeWitt in Three's Company

For, many of us who grew up in the seventies, John Ritter was the lovable, yet clumsy, Jack Tripper on Three's Company. I know the show was dopey and the jokes were lame, but admit it, you watched it, too.

Ritter was, by far, the most talented member of the cast. After seven years as bumbling Tripper, it seemed to many of us that Ritter's career would be over. How could he ever be seen as any other character? Ritter's talent proved the skeptics wrong. He went on to star in the moderately successful sit-coms, Hooperman and Hearts Afire. He also starred in a number of films including Problem Child, Skin Deep, and Noises Off. These were mediocre comedies and not particularly big hits, but they kept Ritter's career moving forward. He also co-starred in the made-for-TV adaptation of Stephen King's IT in 1990. However, his most critical acclaim, and arguably his best performance, was as the gay store manager, Vaughan Cunningham in the film, Sling Blade, with Billy Bob Thornton. Ritter then provided the voice for Clifford the Big Red Dog in the animated series before his final sit-com, 8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter premiered in 2002.

Ritter with the cast of 8 Simple Rules
Ritter with the cast of 8 Simple Rules

On the day he died, he arrived at the Emergency Room showing all of the classic signs of a heart attack. The doctors who treated him that day all agreed with the diagnosis and treatment. In reality, John Ritter was suffering from an aortic dissection, an unrecognized and undetected flaw in his heart. According to, an aortic dissection as "an abnormal separation of tissues within the walls of the aorta" caused by high blood pressure, family history of the condition, disease of connective tissue, or severe trauma to the chest." This condition is very rare and it's no wonder the ER doctors didn't diagnose it. For a detailed medical explanation of John Ritter's death, click here.

During the course of the trial it was also revealed that two years before his death Ritter had been warned by a radiologist to seek additional advice from a cardiologist regarding calcification in three of his coronary arteries. Ritter never did. This condition did not directly cause his death, but had he followed that doctor's advice, his aortic dissection may have been detected and treated successfully.

I have a lot of sympathy for Yasbeck. Ritter died young and unexpectedly. She has a young daughter (Ritter actually died on his daughter, Stella's, 5th birthday) who will grow up without a father. I have no idea how difficult that must be. However, that doesn't automatically entitle you to money. The fact that her husband died unexpectedly does not have to be anyone's "fault." In fact, it isn't anyone's fault, It's just one of those things that happens in life that is totally unfair. Guess what - life is unfair. For Yasbeck to file a suit against hard-working doctors who fought to save her husband's life and to put a dollar amount ($67 million to be exact) on her loss cheapens her husband's life. It is just like declaring that she married him for the benefit of living a wealthy lifestyle for a specific number of years and she got short-changed when he died before she got what she had bargained for.

It's also a shame that the taxpayers of California had to pay for this suit to go to trial. It's no wonder that so many people are suing each other at the drop of a hat. The sense of entitlement that is running rampant through this country is not restricted to the every day American. The rich and famous are just as likely to try to get a big payoff when they are disappointed or don't get exactly what they wanted. The problem is, when the rich and famous do it, it makes headlines. That's what inspires the rest of the "something bad happened to me so give me money" crowd to keep attorneys on retainer in case they ever have to deal with disappointment. It's makes a sad statement about the character of this country and what we really value.

Tribute to John Ritter


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    • profile image


      4 years ago

      This is a horrible article written by an insensitive person who obviously never watched anyone die in a hospital. I do not want to get in to my family's story but if you were in the hospital with us, your view would be completely different. I'm sure if you were in the same situation as john ritters wife, then you would do the same thing. Who are you to cast judgement on her? This isn't a story about someone suing because they slipped in a restaurant.

    • profile image

      Dr Rich 

      5 years ago

      sdorrian, your opinion "I think that lawsuits like this one are the reason healthcare is so expensive..." is not supported by the facts. The latest study [data through 2012] of malpractice claim payouts reveals..."Medical malpractice payments’ share of the nation’s healthcare bill was the lowest on record, falling to about one-tenth of 1 percent (0.11 percent) of national healthcare costs.


    • profile image


      5 years ago

      I began having jaw pain several weeks ago. My symptoms began as excruciatingly severe, lower left jaw pain and my internet search kept pointing to "TMJ." I've never had TMJ. After a week, my chest started hurting off/on....then my left arm. Next came daily nausea and heartburn.

      Went to my Dr. Office. EKG was fine, blood pressure higher than usual, "No, I've never had TMJ," but I was considered low-risk & sent home to await an appt. with a Cardiology Group. They "could see me in 6 weeks."

      Because I'm a 50 year old female with no personal cardiac history of my own (my father had a Widow-Maker heart attack at age 52,) I'm "very low priority" on the Cardiology Group Appointment Waiting List.

      In plain-speak, it means that if I was a 50 year old male patient, who's father had a Widow-Maker heart attack at age 52...FYI, I would have been a much "higher priority." (Don't kid yourselves, ladies...ask almost any nurse you know personally. If the nurse is truthful, you'll find out this is correct.)

      Do keep in mind, I TOLD the doctor and the nurse my medical history had always been similar to my Dad's, not my Mom's. The nurse gave a little "Oh my goodness giggle" and the Dr. ignored that information.

      Chewing low dose aspirin every day, sometimes twice a day while having chest pain, brought only temporary relief.

      Each day, the symptoms returned. I also kept having this strange sensation of "doom" during several of those episodes.

      A couple of weeks ago, I got an at-home Wrist Blood Pressure Monitor & kept a daily watch on BP levels. Every time I felt very weak and tired, my BP was quite high.

      Finally got tired of the chest pains, the jaw pain, left arm pain, nausea, heartburn, the low energy/high BP symptoms while waiting for the appointment.

      I drove myself to the Emergency Room. The first thing the ER Doctor asked me was if I had "TMJ." "No, I don't have TMJ, have never had TMJ, but my dad had a Widow Maker heart attack when he was 2 years older than me."

      Thankfully my mom had just arrived in my room. She's been a working RN for 54 years and confirmed my medical history was similar to my Dad's, not hers.

      The ER staff actually listened to her, since she was an RN at that hospital for 30 years!

      A chest x-ray was done. "Your aorta looks odd...enlarged. We're going to do a CT scan, with contrast dye."

      " looks like you have an enlarged, descending thoracic aorta at the top of your heart. It's possibly an aneurysm...but probably not. The cardiology department has better equipment than the ER. They can determine if it's an aneurysm. Here, take these Rx's for nausea and heartburn until your Cardiology appt. in 10 days. Your IBS is probably causing those symptoms."

      Really? I've had IBS for 40 years...with no nausea or heartburn. Now I get to wait 10 more days? Even though it's obvious something is quite wrong with my aorta.

      So sdorrian, I've got 7 more days left before the appt. Yes, I'm sitting here waiting for it, trying not to raise my bp, refusing to lift anything heavy and risk tearing the aorta...because I'll be dead within a few minutes if that happens.

      By the way, a Cardiologist accidentally killed my Dad when he was 59. Tore his heart vein during a "routine angioplasty." Ignored every symptoms that showed he was dying...according to the cardiac nurses depositions. (Yes, we sued and won.)

      While I sit here, waiting....and waiting...and waiting...for my Cardiology appt., I'm documenting EVERYTHING. If it's an aneurysm and bursts, I'm dead. DRT...dead right there.

      You BET I've INSTRUCTED my family to sue everyone involved in this fiasco.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      I survived an aortic dissection in July of 2011. Like John, I went to the ER with blurred vision, chest/back pains. After 7 hours I was sent home with a Migrain?? I didn't know any better. But, I was told the ER heard a murmer, which I proceeded to tell them I never had one. Right there they should have done more test. I drove 1.5 hours home to my family. Later that night, I told my wife "I am going to die tonight". I found myself in another ER where I spent over 7 hours and was told I had a chest pull and was drugged up. I mentioned the murmer and was told I didn't meet the criteria for more test. Really? The next day my Primary Care Doctor didn't like he heard and set up an Echo with a Cardiologist. They couldn't get me in for over 2 weeks. When I did have the Echo, the immediately brought me to the OR and I had a 7 hour surgery to not repair my Aorta, but to replace it because I went two weeks before it was caught the damage was done. Now I have cognitive issues due to the bypass and my life has changed for the worse. Glad to be alive....YES. Pissed I was misdiagnosed twice.....YES. I should be dead right now. I recommend everyone research Aortic Dissection and the mortality rates the longer you go misdiagnosed before you pass judgement. Amy has every right to go after them. Her life has also changed, not for the better, but the worse.

    • John Sarkis profile image

      John Sarkis 

      7 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

      John Ritter is my favorite comedian and, "Three's Company" my favorite sitcom...grew up on it back in the 70's. John's death was a real shocker to me, especially since John was so full of life, it seemed as if nothing could get to him...

      Good hub, voted up


    • sdorrian profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Chicago

      SueZe - I respectfully disagree. I don't think it's fair to expect doctors to be gods and to be able to diagnose and successfully treat even the most uncommon conditions in an emergency room. I do not work in healthcare and I do not defend genuine medical malpractice. I think that lawsuits like this one are the reason healthcare is so expensive and why many excellent doctors are driven out of practice. The number of frivolous lawsuits brought by ambulance chasing attorneys is a major crisis in this country. Your response is understandably emotional. I just don't think filing lawsuits based on emotion is wise. I understand when someone loses a loved one suddenly there is a need to blame someone. That doesn't mean that the doctors were negligent in the care they provided. There was no malpractice or medical mistake made in this case.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Your article is grossly unfair... both to Ritter's widow, and to the vast amount of people who lose a loved one due to malpractice or medical mistakes.

      Yes, it was determined that the Doctors could not have performed better. Great. Let's hope the jury has some medical experience. Oops... they don't?

      Let's assume that the jury is dead right. That STILL makes your article a "low blow."

      Let me point out that...

      When you lose a loved one, the medical profession, in general, is not forthcoming in admitting mistakes. Unless Yasbeck had a medical degree, how was she to know that the explanation provided was truthful and not simply a cover-up filled with LIES?

      Accusing Yasbeck of being a "gold digger" is WAY out of line. Her filing a lawsuit is actually a BRAVE thing to do. According to the American Bar Association, only about 20% of people who are legitimately victims of medical malpractice ever file a lawsuit. Why? Because they know the deck is stacked against them, they will be put through the wringer, have their life scrutinized AND be accused of "cashing in."

      Medical Malpractice kills more people than guns AND car accidents combined. Add to that the fact that PRESCRIPTION drugs kill 300 times MORE people than illegal drugs, and we have a health care system that is not particularly healthy.

      My Doctor has always told me that... "if you want to live a long, long time, never, EVER go to the hospital." Of course, he said that for dramatic effect, however his distrust of hospitals was real; backed by 50+ years of experience as a physician AND as a board member of our local hospital.

      Are medical professionals human? Of course. However, SHOULD they be held to a higher standard of accountability than, say, the guy that flips burgers at the corner fast food joint? Of course.

      The problem is.. they are NOT. There is NO real system of "accountability" within the hospital system. Even when GROSS medical errors occur... an internal hospital review board looks at it, and makes their own determination as to how the "offenders" are dealt with. Do they call the family of the victim and say "We just killed your husband" or do they seal the records of their internal investigation? I'll give you one guess to that answer... and I'm sure you'll get it right.

      I just stumbled across this article... but from the way it reads, I would guess you work in the healthcare industry... or are a lobbyist for it. One of those people who are paid to mislead the public and pave the way for "tort reform" - taking away the only avenue the public has left to redress any wrongs they suffer at the hands of the "healthcare industry."

    • profile image

      betty louwho 

      8 years ago

      Thanks for the article,

      typical Hollywood widow, she needs more money for her lavish lifestyle. Looking for someone to blame.

      She can't live on his Estate?

    • Kirancool77 profile image


      8 years ago

      Treat strep infections treated promptly to prevent rheumatic fever, which can lead to aortic insufficiency. Aortic insufficiency caused by other often can not be avoided, but some complications can be. Follow the provider's treatment recommendations for conditions that may cause valve disease. Notify the provider if you have a family history of congenital heart disease. control of blood pressure is particularly important if you are at risk of aortic regurgitation.

    • ethel smith profile image

      Ethel Smith 

      9 years ago from Kingston-Upon-Hull

      I never knew what happened to Ritter. Thanks

    • profile image

      Paul Heiser 

      9 years ago

      On 6/14/09 my wife and I were both at home: she in the kitchen and me in my office. She suddenly felt a strong pain in her chest and sat down, but she couldn't contact me. Fortunately I went to the kitchen to get something, noticed that she didn't look well and asked her if she felt all right. She said: "Call 911" and I did that immediately. The ambulance arrived within minutes and took her to the hospital. On the way there the ambulance staff did an EKG and found nothing wrong with her heart. Thankfully, they were in contact with an MD in the Emergency room. That MD ordered her into CT scan as soon as the ambulance arrived. When he saw the scan, he immediately called in a cardiac surgeon who arrived very quickly, looked at the scan and ordered that she be taken into the OR immediately where he performed a 5-hour surgery to repair the dissected aorta. The surgery was successful and she survived against enormous odds. It was certainly through the quick action of the Emergency MD and the cardiac surgeon that she is alive today.

    • sdorrian profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from Chicago

      I grew up watching John Ritter's "Three's Company". I think he was the first American actor/comedian that I knew of. I loved his goofiness and it never failed to make me laugh so hard.

    • sdorrian profile imageAUTHOR


      11 years ago from Chicago

      Hi Libra! Thanks for checking out my Hub.

    • libra profile image


      11 years ago

      I was intrigued by this lawsuit. Thanks for the update.

      Ritter was one of my favourite actors/comedians.

      I admit it - I watched Three's Company regularly.


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