A jury in Washington state handed down a $26 million verdict against Avco Lycoming as a result of a fatal Cessna 172 crash that killed three people in 2008. The jury’s award included $6 million in punitive damages, designed to punish Lycoming for consciously disregarding the safety of the flying public.
It’s the second time a jury has slammed Lycoming with punitive damages for its carb floats. In 2010, a jury awarded $89 million, including $64 million in punitive damages, as a result of 1999 Cherokee 6 crash that killed four and injured one.
This case, however, was a bit different. It was the judge who ruled that Lycoming was responsible for the crash before the case ever reached the jury. All that was left for the jury to decide was how much to include in its verdict. The judge ruled against Lycoming because it refused to turn over relevant documents in the case. Apparently, the documents were so incriminating that Lycoming felt it was better to suffer a certain jury verdict than to allow the documents to see the light of day.
[I]n December 2005, Lycoming participated in a series of emails discussing the leaking Delrin Float issue, none of which Lycoming produced during discovery. The series of emails informs Lycoming of the significance of the Delrin float leaking problem. In the emails, Lycoming employees state that it is clear that hollow plastic carb floats can leak, allowing fuel to enter the interior of the floats. The emails reflect that there was also a recent inflight [engine] stoppage. The email also recognized the danger of discussing the defects in writing: “It is too bad that we have to answer in writing on such a touchy issue.”
Plaintiffs asked Lycoming to turn over the rest of the emails on the subject, including those that went to upper managment. The emails would have been important evidence that Lycoming knew the floats leaked and could cause engine failure. But Lycoming refused. So the court ordered Lycoming to turn them over. Lycoming still refused.
Lycoming’s willful and deliberate refusal to follow the court’s order prevented plaintiffs from proving their case. So the court did the only thing that was fair and ruled that the floats were defective and caused the accident.
The Judge’s order is an interesting read.