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From Products Liability Law Daily, October 24, 2013

Engine parts manufacturer settles Missouri airplane crash claims for $52.5 million

By Susan Lasser, J.D.

An aftermarket aircraft replacement parts manufacturer has settled claims arising out of a 2006 Missouri airplane crash in the amount of $52.5 million. The amount is a full and final settlement of the claims, according to a press release and report issued by Robb & Robb LLC, the law firm representing the plaintiffs in the case. The release states that stipulations of dismissal were filed on October 23 upon receipt of a settlement sum of $10.5 million in cash for each of the crash’s 5 deaths.

Background. On July 29, 2006, Victoria Delacroix, Melissa Berridge, Robert Cook, Robert Walsh, and the pilot, Scott Cowan, boarded a DeHavilland Twin Otter airplane in Sullivan, Missouri, 16 miles outside of St. Louis, for a skydiving flight. Shortly after takeoff, the engine failed and the airplane crashed. Decedents’ parents filed strict products liability claims against Doncasters, Inc., an aftermarket aircraft replacement parts manufacturer headquartered in London, England.

The airplane was equipped with a model PT6A-20 engine manufactured by Pratt & Whitney Canada (PWC), which equipped the engine with compressor turbine blades (CT-blades) made with a pack-aluminide coating and the base metal alloy, Inconel-713, to prevent oxidation. Prior to the skydiving company's ownership of the airplane, the engine's CT-blades were replaced with CT-blades manufactured by Doncasters. The replacements were manufactured with a different coating, SermaLoy J, and a different base metal alloy, Inconel-738, than the original coating and metal alloy used by PWC.

The families of the decedents alleged that the replacement CT-blades manufactured by Doncasters were defective and caused the decedents’ deaths.

Verdict, appeals, and settlement. The trial resulted in a $48 million jury verdict in April 2011. The jury's verdict consisted of $20 million in compensatory damages—$4 million for each wrongful death victim—and $28 million in punitive damages to be split evenly among the families. However, the trial court overturned the punitive damages award on the ground that the evidence in support of Doncasters having actual knowledge of the defect when the part was sold was inadequate. While that ruling was upheld by a three member panel of the Missouri Court of Appeals in January 2013, a May 2013 decision (Delacroix v. Doncasters, Inc., 407 S.W.3d 13 (Mo. App. E.D. 2013)) by the full Missouri Court of Appeals, by 9 to 3, reinstated the $28 million punitive damages award.

Judge Glen Norton initially dissented in the January 2013 opinion, but his opinion became the majority’s opinion in the May decision. He said that the experts had shown with “convincing clarity” that Doncasters knew of the defect. He also stated that the plaintiffs had “presented sufficient evidence from which a reasonable juror could find, with convincing clarity, that Doncasters had actual knowledge of the defective conditions of the CT-blades at the time they were sold and that Doncasters acted with a complete indifference to or conscious disregard for the safety of others.”

The press release further states that the settlement agreement was reached before a final judgment was entered by the trial court upon the remand from the Missouri Court of Appeals, and that the $48 million jury verdict was accruing interest at the rate of 5.25 percent per year.

The relevant case numbers are: No. ED97375 (Mo. App.) and Nos. 06AB-CC00233, 06AB-CC00273, 06AB-CC00251, 06AB-CC00261, and 06AB-CC00243 (Mo. Cir.).

Attorneys: Gary C. Robb (Robb & Robb LLC) for Susan Delacroix. Edward L. Dowd, Jr. (Dowd Bennett LLP) for Doncasters, Inc.

Companies: Doncasters, Inc.

MainStory: TopStory SettlementAgreementsNews DamagesNews DesignManufacturingNews MissouriNews

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