Family doctor allegedly told FL government driver could keep license despite history of alcoholism and seizures
[Panama City Beach, FL] – The parents of two children who were killed in 2020 when a driver veered off the road into a Panama City Beach mini-golf course have filed a lawsuit alleging that negligence by multiple parties led to the deaths of their young son and daughter.
On December 4, 2020, Addie Kirchgessner, 6, and Baylor Kirchgessner, 4, were playing mini-golf with their parents at Coconut Creek Family Fun Park in Panama City Beach, FL while on vacation from their home in Louisville, KY. Suddenly, a Chevy Silverado driven by Scott Donaldson veered off the road and crashed through a fence and into the park, striking and killing both Addie and Baylor as their parents Matt and Lauren looked on.
Fourteenth Judicial Circuit State Attorney Larry Basford later declined to press charges, determining Mr. Donaldson had no alcohol in his system but had a seizure behind the wheel that caused the crash. Morgan & Morgan attorneys Jack T. Cook, Clay Townsend, and Rebecca Williamson, who represent the Kirchgessner family, have since uncovered new evidence that implicates multiple parties in downplaying and concealing Mr. Donaldson’s problems, enabling him to continue driving despite the previously demonstrated dangers posed to the public. This new information came to light when Mr. Donaldson agreed to allow the family and their attorneys access to his medical records. It was through review of those records that new and alarming information came to light about Mr. Donaldson’s struggles with alcohol and break-through seizures.
“We shouldn’t be here. We should be home with our children having dinner, doing homework, and reading bedtime stories,” said Matt and Lauren Kirchgessner. “As it stands, no one has been held responsible for the deaths of our sweet Addie and Baylor. We believe that multiple people could have prevented this tragedy, and we never want this to happen to another family. The doctor needs to be held accountable for the decisions he made that we believe led to our children’s tragic deaths, and we call on everyone to take responsibility for keeping dangerous drivers off the road.”
Florida law bars plaintiffs from suing the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (DHSMV) for failing to suspend a driver’s license. The complaint, linked here, names two responsible defendants: Mr. Donaldson’s longtime family physician Dr. Tim M. Smith, and an oyster bar owned by Mr. Donaldson. According to medical records, Mr. Donaldson allegedly took several medications for a seizure disorder that multiple doctors allegedly ascribed to severe alcoholism and alcohol withdrawal. The complaint makes damning allegations that Dr. Smith signed off on DHSMV documents on two occasions – once in 2017 and again in 2019 – that allowed Mr. Donaldson to keep his driver’s license despite allegedly being hospitalized at least 12 times for seizures and alcohol abuse and allegedly being involved in several seizure-related car crashes prior to the incident that killed Addie and Baylor. According to the lawsuit, Dr. Smith failed to advise Mr. Donaldson that his alcohol disorder was significantly and adversely impacting his health and the efficacy of his anti-seizure medications.
“Dr. Smith was allegedly presented with multiple chances to protect Florida’s residents and visitors by taking Mr. Donaldson off the roads. If he had done his duty to protect his patient and the public, Addie and Baylor might still be with us today,” said Morgan & Morgan attorneys Jack T. Cook and Clay Townsend. “The lawsuit alleges Dr. Smith consistently minimized his patient’s alcoholism – in stark contrast to the opinions of several other doctors who had treated Mr. Donaldson – and by doing so contributed to Addie and Baylor’s deaths. We will do everything we can to hold Dr. Smith accountable for these alleged failures.”
The complaint also brings DRAM shop claims against Billy’s Oyster Bar, a Panama City Beach establishment Mr. Donaldson owns. In the years leading up to the crash, Mr. Donaldson allegedly frequented the bar, and while present was served copious amounts of alcohol despite the staff’s knowledge that he had significant struggles with alcohol that resulted in multiple car crashes.
Mr. Donaldson is named in the lawsuit solely as part of declaratory action which asks the Court to grant additional release of his medical records.
The case was filed in the Circuit Court of the Fourteenth Judicial Circuit in and for Bay County, Florida, case number 23000145CA. The complaint can be found at https://www.forthepeople.com/sites/default/files/2023-02/Kirchgessner%20complaint.pdf.
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