The jury voted 9-3 to clear Dr. Joseph Lee, the cardiologist, and Dr. Matthew Lotysch, the radiologist, of the negligence claims. Neither doctor was present for the verdict, which was reached on the second day of deliberations and was read quickly. Attorneys said the doctors were at work.
"We felt very strongly that neither Dr. Lotysch nor Dr. Lee did anything wrong in this case," said jury forewoman Adriana Goad, a human resources manager for a mortgage company. She said talks were often heated but the majority was adamant that "we don't believe his life could have been saved."
Ritter was 54 when he became ill while working on his hit sitcom "8 Simple Rules ... for Dating My Teenage Daughter" and was taken to the hospital on Sept. 11, 2003.
Lawyers for Ritter's widow, Amy Yasbeck, and children claimed Ritter's death resulted in a loss of as much as $67 million in future earnings. Attorneys said Friday that because Ritter would have had expenses such as paying an agent and staff, they were actually seeking about $43 million in damages for the family.
Eight other medical personnel and the hospital previously made settlements with the family totaling $14 million.
"I disagree with the jury's decision but I believe in the system and I respect it," Yasbeck said.
Yasbeck said she believes that bringing the lawsuit has drawn attention to aortic diseases and the fact that "mistakes like this are made every day."
"It inspires me even more to find, with these brilliant medical minds, a path to diagnose aortic diseases," Yasbeck said. She said she has started a foundation in her husband's name to work in that area.
During the trial, the plaintiffs' attorneys sought to show that Lee rushed to a faulty diagnosis and failed to have a chest X-ray taken that would have revealed the torn aorta, resulting in surgery that would have saved him.
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. Lee was called in later in the evening after Ritter was already diagnosed with a heart attack.
Defense testimony characterized the aortic dissection as lethal and contended that even with surgery the outcome would have been the same.
"We all came into this trial liking John Ritter," said Goad, the forewoman. "We all fell in love with John Ritter and his family during the trial. What an amazing man."
But she said the deciding factor was the timeline that showed Lee arriving after others had declared Ritter was having a heart attack, and she said the majority was convinced that the doctor had no spare time to take an X-ray and had to act quickly to try to save the actor's life.
Juror Bill Boller, a former paramedic, said that when Lee arrived Ritter's "vital signs were already dipping. He had to make a quick decision. He had no time."
The decision on Lotysch was so clear it took only 15 minutes, said juror Ann Sood.
"My heart cries out for John's family," she said. "But two doctors' lives were at stake here, too."
Attorney Stephen C. Fraser, who represented Lotysch, credited jurors with being sophisticated and intelligent.
"The system worked and we're very, very happy that they did the right thing," Fraser said.
Among the jury's findings was that Ritter was advised by the radiologist after the body scan to follow up with treatment by a physician and that the actor did not do so.
The radiologist testified he advised Ritter he had calcification in three coronary arteries and should consult other doctors. But the jury also found that Ritter's failure to pursue that medical consultation was not a cause of his death.
A dissenting juror who refused to be identified said she tried to convince others to find the doctors negligent.
She said she was impressed with the testimony of Ritter's widow and adult children, calling it "very poignant."
"What impressed me was very strong testimony that the doctors missed the diagnosis. I felt they should take responsibility."
Fraser said the doctors would have been bankrupted by a verdict of just a few million dollars in damages and he was proud of them for fighting the lawsuit.
"They were the only doctors with the courage to stand up and come to court in a celebrity case," he said.