Jury orders $4M payment in Carnahan case

David Twiddy
Staff Writer
A Jackson County jury on Friday ordered aircraft parts manufacturer Parker Hannifin Corp. to pay $4 million in the wrongful death case of Missouri Gov. Mel Carnahan.
Both sides claimed victory in the verdict, which came after two months of testimony and three days of sometimes difficult deliberations by jurors.

Only nine of the 12 jurors signed off on the verdict, which awarded $3 million to Carnahan's family and $1 million to Carnahan's widow and former U.S. senator, Jean Carnahan, for the death of their son, Randy.

Randy Carnahan was piloting the Cessna 335 that crashed on Oct. 16, 2000, in southeast Missouri, killing himself, his father and an aide, Chris Sifford.

Family members blamed the crash on a pair of Parker Hannifin vacuum pumps, which they said failed and killed power to several key navigational instruments. In radio transmissions with air traffic controllers in St. Louis, Randy Carnahan reported a malfunctioning primary attitude indicator, or artificial horizon, which is powered by the pumps.

During the trial, the family showed reports of 20 airplane crashes blamed on the failure of vacuum pump systems involving Parker Hannifin equipment.

The company has argued that there was no evidence of its pumps failing in Carnahan's plane, relying on a report from the National Transportation Safety Board. The NTSB said in its investigation that the pumps probably were operating at the time of the crash.

Following the verdict, Jean Carnahan told reporters that the award, while less than the $100 million that family attorney Gary Robb requested during closing arguments on Tuesday, absolves her son of fault in the crash. She said she hoped the decision would lead the Federal Aviation Administration to recall Parker Hannifin's vacuum pumps, which still are installed on airplanes across the country.

"Justice has been served," Carnahan said, surrounded by Robb and her three surviving children. "This case was never about money. It was to hold Parker Hannifin accountable for the deaths they've caused over the years."

Parker Hannifin officials said they were pleased with the verdict and that the jury declined to award punitive damages.

"It's clear to us that this was a compromise verdict," said Lorrie Paul Crum, vice president of corporate communications. "We came here not for money but to vindicate Parker's good name, and we think we achieved that in this verdict."

REACH DAVID TWIDDY at 816-421-5900 or dtwiddy@bizjournals.com.