Legal Responsibilities of the Aviation Medical Examiner

Editorial, by Jon L. Jordan, MD, JD

Anyone who has attended an FAA Aviation Medical Examiner seminar should be acutely aware of the concern that the FAA has regarding the legal responsibilities of the Examiner. Agency attorneys routinely give seminar presentations not only to answer questions from AMEs regarding their personal liability in the conduct of FAA examinations but also to emphasize their responsibilities to the agency and the public.

Not long ago, I had the opportunity to address an international meeting regarding the legal aspects of determining the medical fitness of airmen. As a part of that presentation, I discussed the liability of the Examiner and focused on four areas:

  • Negligent injury to the applicant during the examination,
  • Negligent denial of certification,
  • Negligent certification, and
  • Unauthorized disclosure of confidential medical information.
When I spoke on the issue of negligent certification, I was thinking of those situations in which an Examiner intentionally or negligently issues a medical certificate when the Examiner knows or should know that the applicant does not meet the medical standards applicable to the certificate issued. Several recent events lead me to believe, however, that I should have been more expansive on the subject of AME liability and responsibility.

I want to share with you, therefore, recent experiences we have had with inappropriate actions taken by several of our Examiners. I believe that doing so may not only enhance the quality of our medical certification program but may also lessen the potential personal liability of some Examiners.

In the last year or so, there have been several instances in which AMEs have predated medical certificates from the date of the actual examination. In these cases, the intent of the Examiners was to accommodate airmen who were being investigated for piloting aircraft without valid medical certificates. Most recently, we are investigating a case in which the Examiner apparently postdated a medical certificate for an airman for purposes of giving the certificate an added period of validity beyond the date of the actual examination.

AMEs must recognize that a medical certificate must be dated when the examination is completed. To do otherwise constitutes a potential criminal violation of the United States Code that carries severe penalties. One needs only to look at the lowest left-hand block on the front of the 8500-8 to become aware of the gravity of the offense. Even if prosecution under the code may not happen, loss of a designation to perform FAA examinations is likely.

Fortunately, I believe these are isolated events that occur infrequently. Recent experiences reveal, however, that Examiners can get caught up with an overwhelming urge to inappropriately accommodate an airman.

We do, of course, wish to accommodate airmen, but not beyond the limits of our regulations and the law.