In November 2003, Carson City physician Dr. Kevin Jensen sold his clinic, Sierra View Urgent Care. The decision was prompted by an airplane accident involving him and his wife, Lois, more than two years earlier.
"After that accident, Lois and I, as well as our clinic, were sued," Jensen wrote in a letter to his patients. "The ongoing costs of our defense in those suits resulted in the bankruptcy and sale of our clinic.
"I have decided to withdraw from full-time practice to recuperate," he said.
The clinic was purchased by Concentra Medical Centers, an organization that concentrates on occupational health, and the terms of the sale included a caveat: Jensen cannot work within a 10-mile radius of his old business.
The couple is committed to staying in the community, and Jensen expects to be working at surrounding emergency rooms and local clinics, filling in for other physicians.
"We have deep roots here," he said. "I started as an orderly at Carson-Tahoe Hospital. Lois was a candy-striper. We both graduated from Carson High School, and our families are both here."
The accident occurred when Jensen's plane, a Cherokee 235 he purchased just six weeks before, lost power as it landed.
After investigating the crash, the National Transportation and Safety Board determined that Jensen had incorrectly set the fuel selector valve during the pre-landing checklist to a position between usable tanks, resulting in fuel deprivation.
Jensen believes the switch malfunctioned, and the plane's fuel supply was cut off.
"When I saw that the engine wasn't getting any fuel, I tried to switch tanks back and restart the plane, but it didn't work," he said. "I was heading into a neighborhood so I yawed to the right. I hoped to take the trees and break our fall, taking the impact with my side of the plane to protect my wife."
In addition to numerous cuts and bruises, Lois Jensen had broken ribs. Kevin Jensen's leg was broken.
Bob Griffin, who was turning off the water in his back yard, was pinned under the tail of the plane when it crashed. Both his legs were broken.
Jensen said he called Griffin after the accident, offering to pay his medical costs and be his physician for the rest of his life, for free.
"I made several attempts to work it out, but I got no answers," Jensen said. "Three or four months later, I got a knock on the door. He was suing me."
The Jensens joined Griffin in one suit against El Aero, a Carson City-based aviation service, and ultimately nine lawyers were involved in the tangle of suits that followed.
A required, annual, detailed mechanical inspection of the plane was ordered by Jensen at El Aero, but the paperwork was not completed before the crash.
El Aero officials claim the work was not ordered. Because the annual report had lapsed, the insurance company refused to pay the claim - and Jensen's bills kept piling up, he said.
"Every time a lawyer fired a letter off to my lawyer, he had to respond," Jensen said. "The costs kept climbing until they were more than we could afford. It put our clinic into bankruptcy."
The Jensens filed for Chapt. 11 reorganization on June 27, 2003. On May 5, their case for Chapt. 7 bankruptcy will be heard.
The clinic was sold and escrow closed Nov. 24.
"We lost all of our retirement, which we invested in the clinic," Jensen said. "Both sets of parents mortgaged property to finance the clinic. We still have lots of bills and owe huge amounts of money to our parents."
Griffin eventually turned to Carson City attorney Gerald Madison, who pushed for a settlement, Jensen said.
"We couldn't fight anymore," he said. "We signed a judgement against ourselves for $1 million. Griffin, in turn, signed an agreement not to execute the judgment so they could go after the insurance company that insured the plane."
When the Jensens signed that agreement, it ended the case. Jensen is thankful his family is still intact.
"It's sad that we had to go through this, and I'm sorry about the victim," Jensen said. "But I look at the incident as a blessing. Through this ordeal, we gained a lot of insight into the importance of family."
Contact Susie Vasquez at email@example.com or 881-1212.