It's Over: Carnahans Throw In Legal Towel

Parker-Hannifin 'Shakedown' Over

As previously detailed in ANN, Parker-Hannifin has been fighting a bizarre legal battle in which they have been held responsible (in part) for the deaths of 3 people who's plane crashed... even though no product of Parker-Hannifin's has actually been found to have failed. The accident that started this intense legal battle took the life of Gov. Mel Carnahan, his son and an aide.

Since NTSB investigative reports were not admissible in this long-winded and expensive civil action (and since such actions do not demand the same burden of proof needed in criminal proceedings... only the ability to convince the majority of a jury), Parker-Hannifin was successfully sued for (a portion of) a $4 million award on behalf of Carnahan's widow, Jean, and her surviving children -- Robin, Thomas and Russell.

The accident changed the American political landscape. When the unpressurized twin-engine Cessna 335 went down, Carnahan was running for the Senate seat held by Republican John Ashcroft and actually went on to win the election -- posthumously. Mrs. Carnahan was appointed to the Senate until the next election, but lost her seat in 2002 to a Republican challenger.

Randy Carnahan was in command of the flight and while he was obviously having problems with a primary attitude instrument (not made by Parker), he admitted to having functioning primary and secondary attitude references on another part of the panel (the aircraft being equipped with a copilot's AI).

None-the-less, the aircraft apparently went down after experiencing a loss of control. The accident was later ruled to have resulted from pilot error (primarily) by the NTSB, after an extensive, politically-tinged investigation.

Early in 2004, a civil jury found Cleveland based Parker Hannifin Corp. liable for $4 million, but rejected huge additional claims for punitive damages (which were claimed at upwards of 100 million dollars).

Despite the NTSB's finding that no P-H component failed or was directly contributory to the accident, well-known Aviation litigator Gary Robb (pictured right) successfully argued an aggressive case alleging that "faulty" vacuum pumps failed and created the contributed to the fatal accident.

While Robb and the Carnahan family made noises about an appeal, a recent statement by Robb seems to indicate that this legal battle is finally over... "We believe justice was served," said Robb.

The aftermath of the case has become a rallying cry for continued efforts to enact aggressive tort reform. Since there is no physical evidence, whatsoever, pinning Parker-Hannifin to any aspect of the crash, many see Robb's limited victory as a triumph of emotionalism over legal fact and a stunning reason to demand legal reforms to prevent similar verdicts from reoccurring.


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