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Missouri Lawyers Weekly - January 1, 2001

Carnahan Family Files Wrongful Death Suit

Missouri Lawyers Weekly


The family of the late Gov. Mel Carnahan filed a wrongful death suit Dec. 21 in Jackson County Circuit Court in connection with the Oct. 16 plane crash that took the lives of the former Governor, his son Roger “Randy” Carnahan and aide Chris Sifford.

A Cessna 335 carrying the men to a campaign event crashed in a hilly area 25 miles south of St. Louis about 10 minutes after takeoff from Parks Airport in Cahokia, Ill.

The 21-count lawsuit alleges that a vacuum pump powering the directional gyroscope on the Cessna malfunctioned and caused the pilot, Randy Carnahan, to lose control of the plane, which descended 3,200 feet in nine seconds before it was lost from the radar screen.

The suit further claims that Cessna, one of the defendants, knew there had been multiple in-flight failures of the gyroscope and seven prior crashes, but failed to provide adequate warning of the dangers.

In addition to Cessna, which manufactured the airplane, the defendants are Textron, Inc. of Rhode Island, Cessna’s parent company Parker-Hannifin Corporation, an Ohio company that allegedly designed and manufactured the vacuum system powering the gyroscope; Sigma Tek, Inc., a Kansas aircraft parts distributor, and Aeroflite, Inc., a Poplar Bluff, Mo., company that, according to the allegations of the petition, “performed work on the subject aircraft gyroscopic instruments less than one month prior to the aircrash.”

Plaintiffs include Mel Carnahan’s widow Jean Carnahan, who will take office as U.S. Senator on Jan. 3, and their three surviving children, Robin Colleen Carnahan, Russell Carnahan and Thomas S. Carnahan. Jean Carnahan is the sole plaintiff in a companion suit filed in connection with Randy Carnahan’s death. The family of Chris Sifford is not party to either lawsuit.

Attorneys for the family are Gary C. Robb and Anita Porte Robb of Robb & Robb LLC in Kansas City. In 1995 the firm won verdicts of $70 million and $350 million for wrongful death of two individuals in a 1993 crash of a Life Flight helicopter north of Kansas City. After appeals and remittitur, in 1998 the defendant in those cases paid final judgments totaling $82 million.

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