The Ohio State Medical Board has suspended for “not less than two years” the license of a Port Clinton physician who annually signed off on an airman medical certificate for a pilot whose declining vision was determined to be a factor in a fatal plane crash near Fremont.
The medical board said Dr. Jerome McTague “departed from or failed to conform to minimal standards of care” when he failed to detect and document Gene Damschroder’s deteriorating eyesight because of cataracts and macular degeneration.
On June 8, 2008, Mr. Damschroder, 86, was piloting a single-engine plane for a Lions Club “Drive-In/Fly-In Breakfast” at the airport on State Rt. 53 near Fremont when his plane crashed, killing him and five passengers.
The families of those killed — Bill Ansted, 62, and his daughter, Allison, 23, both of Lindsey, Ohio; Matt Clearman, 25, of Maumee, who was Ms. Ansted’s fiancé, and Danielle Gerwin, 31, and her daughter, Emily, 4, both of Gibsonburg — filed a wrongful-death suit in 2009 against Dr. McTague along with the estate of Gene Damschroder and the International Association of Lions Clubs.
While the case had been set for trial this week in Lucas County Common Pleas Court, Dale Emch, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said Thursday that settlements had been reached with Dr. McTague, the Damschroders, and the International Association of Lions Clubs. Terms of the settlements were confidential, he said.
“After four or five years of often-contentious litigation, our clients are happy and relieved to have some closure,” said Mr. Emch, who was co-counsel in the case with the Cleveland law firm of Nurenberg, Paris, Heller, & McCarthy.
“The accident was a tragedy for four families — the three families that lost loved ones who flew with Gene Damschroder that day and for the Damschroder family,” Mr. Emch said.
The National Transportation Safety Board concluded that the probable cause of the crash was “the pilot’s failure to maintain airplane control for an undetermined reason, which resulted in an inadvertent stall.”
Other contributing factors, the board found, were “the pilot’s poor judgment in continuing to fly with his severe visual deficiency” and “the aviation medical examiner’s failure to accurately assess and report the pilot’s visual deficiency.”
The State Medical Board cited the NTSB report in its inquiry into Dr. McTague, an emergency-room physician and a former Ottawa County coroner. The medical board reviewed Dr. McTague’s examinations of Mr. Damschroder from 1998 until 2007, finding that he listed the pilot’s uncorrected distant vision as 20/20 at his last exam in May, 2007.
His uncorrected vision actually was 20/200 just three weeks before the crash.
“Dr. McTague was required to review [Mr. Damschroder’s] medical information, conduct a thorough and careful examination of [Mr. Damschroder], fully complete each medical certificate, and issue a medical certificate only if [Mr. Damschroder] met the FAA’s medical standards,” Danielle Blue, hearing examiner for the medical board, wrote in her report.
Joan Wehrle, spokesman for the medical board, said that while the hearing examiner recommended Dr. McTague receive a 60-day license suspension, the medical board, after a lengthy discussion on Feb. 12, agreed to a two-year suspension effective Feb. 26.
“They believed his failure to conform to the standards of care regarding the continuing examination of this one patient, not noticing the visual deterioration of that patient, and saying he was still OK to fly, merited an extended suspension,” she said.
Dr. McTague has until March 13 to appeal his suspension to the Franklin County Common Pleas Court. Reached by phone Thursday, Dr. McTague declined to comment.
Attorneys for the Damschroder family and the Lions Club did not respond to requests for comment.
According to the board’s orders, when Dr. McTague applies for reinstatement of his medical license, he must show that he completed courses in personal/professional ethics and in maintaining adequate and appropriate medical records. He must submit written reports on what he learned in those courses and how he will apply what he learned to his medical practice.
Upon reinstatement, Dr. McTague would be on probation for at least three years, during which time he would have regular interviews with the medical board and would be monitored by an approved physician.
Contact Jennifer Feehan at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-213-2134.