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Jackson County, Missouri

This case involved a products liability claim against the manufacturer of a vacuum pump which the plaintiff maintained was the cause of an airplane crash which killed Missouri governor Mel Carnahan, an aide and his son who was piloting the aircraft. The defendants maintained that they had a policy in place for correcting the problem with the vacuum pumps and that the particular aircraft involved was not brought in for this repair.

On October 16, ________, governor Carnahan, his aide and the p 7 3 governor’s son who was the pilot were flying in a twin engine Cessna ________. The group was en-route to a campaign event. The airplane was equipped with a dual vacuum pump manufactured by the defendant Parker-Hannifin Corporation. The vacuum pump powered the critical flight instruments used by the pilot in poor weather conditions. Shortly after take-off, the decedent pilot contacted the air traffic controllers at St. Louis and informed them that he was experiencing a problem with his primary attitude indicator. He advised air traffic control that due to this problem, he was required to operate the plane using the co- pilot’s instruments. Subsequently during the flight, the pilot again radioed to advise air traffic control that he was continuing to experience instrument problems and inquired as to vectors since he advised that neither of his attitude indicators were working at that time. Just before 7:32 p.m., air traffic control showed the plane descending from ________ feet in a period of nine seconds. Seconds later, the plane was lost from radar and was later discovered to have crashed into the rocky bluffs near Hillsboro, Missouri. The governor, his son and his aide were all killed instantly in the crash.

The plaintiff alleged that both vacuum pumps failed, cutting off power to the critical flight instruments on the plane. The plaintiff maintained that the vacuum pumps failed due to a defect.

Plaintiff asked the jury to award $________ million in damages, $80 million for the governor and $20 million for his son. The plaintiff’s attorney also asked the jury to award punitive damages since the plaintiff maintained that the defendant knew that there was a safety issue with its pumps and yet failed to remove them from the market.

The defendant maintained that the crash was solely due to a faulty attitude indicator, poor weather conditions and pilot error. The defendant contended that there was no evidence that the pump had completely failed and relied upon the report from the National Transportation Safety Board which stated that the pumps were probably working at the time of the crash.

The evidence adduced at trial demonstrated that the vacuum pumps manufactured by the defendant had failed in 20 other planes which caused crashes killing a total of 46 people from ________ through ________. The plaintiff demonstrated that five of these crashes involved double pump failure, such as what was claimed to have happened to the plaintiff’s decedents. The evidence further disclosed that the defendant was aware that the vacuum pumps were failing since ________, however, they continued to sell these pumps in the aviation market.

During trial, one of the defendant’s employees testified that in lieu of changing the vacuum pump design, the defendant had opted to send out a paper warning to encourage the purchase of a second pump for what was labeled "redundancy purposes." The plaintiff’s experts were critical of this policy and condemned the defendant’s actions as purely an attempt to boost the sale of its defective pumps, rather than fix the safety issue. The evidence demonstrated that at that time, one-half of the defendant’s total sales were from the sale of the subject vacuum pumps.

The trial in this matter lasted two months and the jury p 7 3 deliberated for three days. At the conclusion of deliberations, the jury found that the vacuum pumps were defective, that they proximately caused the fatal crash ant that the defendant was liable. They then awarded damages to the plaintiff in the amount of $________. The damages were apportioned $________ for the death of the governor and $________ for the death of his son.

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