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Jury awards Carnahan family $4 million

An airplane parts manufacturer must pay the family of Missouri Gov. Mel Carnahan $4 million in damages for its negligence in the 2000 crash that killed him, his son and an aide, a jury ruled Friday.
/ Source: The Associated Press

A jury found an airplane parts manufacturer negligent in the 2000 plane crash that killed Gov. Mel Carnahan and his son, and awarded their family $4 million.

The Carnahan family’s attorney argued that a pair of vacuum pumps made by Parker Hannifin Corp. failed, causing the plane to crash. Killed were pilot Randy Carnahan, his father and Chris Sifford, a longtime aide to the governor.

The jury awarded compensatory damages of $3 million for Mel Carnahan and $1 million for Randy Carnahan. They jury did not award any punitive damages.

Attorneys for Parker Hannifin, based in Cleveland, argued that the vacuum pumps did not fail and blamed the crash on the failure of the pilot’s attitude indicator. The indicator tells a pilot whether the plane is banking and whether the nose is high or low. That failure, on a rainy night, caused Randy Carnahan to become disoriented, the company said.

The Carnahans’ attorney, Gary Robb, had asked the jury to consider awardint the family $100 million.

Carnahan, a Democrat, was killed Oct. 16, 2000, en route to a campaign appearance during his race for the U.S. Senate seat then held by Republican John Ashcroft, now U.S. attorney general.

Carnahan remained on the ballot and posthumously won the election. His Senate seat was filled by his widow, Jean, until the 2002 election.

During the trial, Robb told jurors that federal investigators found that Parker Hannifin vacuum pumps failed in 20 other plane crashes, killing 46 people, between 1981 to 1998. He said the company knew the pumps could fail but continued to make them until shortly after the Carnahan crash.

The company sent warnings to install a backup system for the vacuum pumps and said it frequently urged the Federal Aviation Administration to make the backup systems mandatory, but the government agency declined to do so.

Parker Hannifin's attorney, Mitchel Kallet, told jurors that a federal investigation found the pumps were probably working at the time of the crash but that one attitude indicator was not.

The family has settled with several other defendants for a combined total of about $2 million.