Trial opens in suit over actor John Ritter's death

LOS ANGELES Mon Feb 11, 2008 9:01pm EST

Actor John Ritter and wife Amy Yasbeck are pictured in this April 14, 2003 file photograph in Beverly Hills. Ritter died September 11, 2003. Opening statements in a $67 million wrongful death lawsuit brought against two doctors who treated Ritter took place at the Los Angeles Superior Court in Glendale, California February 11, 2008. REUTERS/Jim Ruymen/Files

Actor John Ritter and wife Amy Yasbeck are pictured in this April 14, 2003 file photograph in Beverly Hills. Ritter died September 11, 2003. Opening statements in a $67 million wrongful death lawsuit brought against two doctors who treated Ritter took place at the Los Angeles Superior Court in Glendale, California February 11, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Jim Ruymen/Files

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Emmy-winning actor John Ritter, who died in 2003 after collapsing on the set of his popular TV sitcom, could have been saved with proper treatment, a lawyer for his family told jurors as the trial opened in their wrongful death lawsuit against two doctors.

But attorneys for the doctors, who treated Ritter after he suffered a torn aorta while taping the ABC-TV comedy "8 Simple Rules ... for Dating My Teenage Daughter," said nothing more could have been done for the 54-year-old TV star.

Ritter's family sued the doctors and Providence St Joseph Medical Center in 2004, claiming that the comic actor had died because he was wrongly treated for a heart attack instead of the torn aorta.

The family has already settled their case against the hospital and several other defendants for a reported $14 million.

Moses Lebovits, an attorney for the family, told the court in his opening remarks that the doctors erred in failing to order a chest X-ray for Ritter, a move that would have discovered the torn aorta.

"Because they didn't get the chest X-ray, they gave him the wrong treatment," Lebovits said as Ritter's widow, Amy Yasbeck, listened from the courtroom gallery.

But attorneys for radiologist Matthew Lotysch and cardiologist Joseph Lee told jurors that Ritter arrived at the hospital in grave condition and that they did everything they could to keep him alive.

"These doctors did nothing more than try to save Mr. Ritter's life," said defense lawyer Stephen Fraser. "Dr. Lee did not save John Ritter's life, but he didn't kill him either. At that time there was nothing that could have been done to save his life."

Ritter, best known for his Emmy-winning role on the hit 1970s sitcom "Three's Company," was rushed to the hospital from the set of "8 Simple Rules" on Sept 11, 2003 after suffering chest pain, nausea and vomiting. He died several hours later.

Actor Henry Winkler, who was on the set with Ritter on the day of his death, was expected to be one of the first witnesses to testify in the case.

(Editing by Bob Tourtellotte and xxx)