Hefty Award After Plane Crash Killed Skydivers

     ST. LOUIS, Mo. (CN) – The families of five skydivers killed in a 2006 plane crash can collect $28 million in punitive damages, an en banc Missouri appeals court ruled.
     A Franklin County jury had initially set the award, plus another $20 million in compensatory damages, to be split evenly among the families.
     In a 2011 trial, the families claimed that their loved ones died in a plane crash caused by a crack in a substandard turbine blade manufactured by Doncasters Inc.
     In stripping the punitive damages from the total award, however, the trial judge said there was no evidence Doncasters had actual knowledge of the defect in the part blamed in the crash.
     A panel of the Eastern District for the Missouri Court of Appeals affirmed, but vacated that decision in favor of an en banc rehearing.
     On Tuesday, a nine-judge majority reinstated the punitive damages award. The court also affirmed the rest of the verdict challenged by Doncasters and denied the airplane parts manufacturer’s request for a new trial.
     In determining whether to award punitive damages, the court said the plaintiffs must prove that the defendant had knowledge of the defect and showed complete indifference and conscious disregard for others’ safety.
     On this point, “Doncasters’ corporate representative testified and agreed that the failure of a CT-blade in-flight has a high likelihood of causing serious injury or death to passengers due to the potential of the crash,” Judge Glenn Norton wrote for the majority. “He also agreed that, within the aviation industry, a company that sells a product which it knows to be defective is acting recklessly.
     “Viewing this evidence and the reasonable inferences drawn therefrom in the light most favorable to the verdict, we find that plaintiffs presented sufficient evidence from which a reasonable juror could find, with convincing clarity, that Doncasters showed a complete indifference to or conscious disregard for the safety of others,” Norton added.
     Judge Clifford Ahrens dissented on behalf of two of his colleagues.
     “I concur with the majority in affirming the trial court’s judgment awarding compensatory damages,” Ahrens wrote. “However, I dissent in regard to plaintiffs’ cross-appeal on punitive damages. In my view, the record does not contain sufficient clear and convincing evidence from which a reasonable juror could conclude that, at the time of sale in 1996, Doncasters had actual knowledge of the specific defect on which the compensatory award is based.”
     Six people died in the July 29, 2006, crash, but one of the victim’s families did not participate in the lawsuit at issue here.

%d bloggers like this: