The first lawsuit?

The closing arguments in actor John Ritter's wrongful death lawsuit are over and the two doctors charged with negligence cleared, five years after his death from a dissection (tear of the inner lining) of the thoracic aorta. The family sought $67 million in damages, claiming that the aortic dissection was misdiagnosed as a heart attack and that the enlarged aorta should have been reported to Mr. Ritter two years earlier during a full body scan.

The AP story can be viewed at

Well, perhaps this is the start of a trend. Up until now, it has been commonplace for doctors to ignore many of the important findings on heart scans, full body scans, and similar direct-to-the-public imaging services. For instance, similar to John Ritter's case, enlarged thoracic aortas are commonly ignored. I'd even say that as a rule they are ignored. I have seen many patients in consultation who have had large aortas identified on heart scans, yet nothing--not a thing--was done about it. While the doctors escaped a lawsuit this time, it might not happen a second time.

I truly hope that Mr. Ritter's unfortunate experience and the consequent lawsuit do not trigger the usual defensive medicine response of resorting to major procedural "solutions."

A better response would be to 1) identify the problem--enlarged aorta in this case, 2) identify the causes, then 3) correct the causes. It does not necessarily mean that a major procedure like replacing the aorta (a horrendous surgery, by the way) needs to be pursued each and every time.

It is possible that Mr. Ritter's lawsuit is just the first. Over the next several years, it could trigger an avalanche of lawsuits for all the neglected findings on tests like heart scans, body scans, and other imaging methods that are gaining expanded direct-to-consumer access.

Images courtesy Wikipedia.

Comments (1) -

  • Anonymous

    3/16/2008 2:32:00 PM |

    I wondered about the cases outcome.  Looks like Rittter's physicians dodged a bullet this time.  Hopefully others will not be as lucky next time.