Cases & Deals

Doncasters wins post-trial motions vacating multi-million dollar punitive damages award in aviation accident case

Client(s) Doncasters Group Ltd.

Jones Day was retained by Doncasters Inc. after trial to develop post-trial motions following an adverse jury verdict in Franklin County, Missouri. The case resulted from the July 2006 crash of a sky-diving flight, where five parachutists and the pilot were killed and two additional parachutists were seriously injured. The plaintiffs claimed that the crash was caused by defects in the right engine fan blade of the de Havilland DHC-6-100 aircraft. The jury awarded the plaintiffs compensatory and punitive damages.

After quickly mastering the trial record, Jones Day filed several motions for judgment notwithstanding the verdict. Jones Day argued, in particular, that the plaintiffs failed to establish essential elements of their punitive damages claim and that the award violated the U.S. Constitution due process clause. Following briefing and oral argument, the trial court agreed, granted JNOV, and vacated the jury's $28 million dollar punitives award.

The plaintiffs appealed to the Missouri Court of Appeals. After oral argument the panel majority affirmed the trial court's grant of JNOV in September 2012. The plaintiffs next appealed to the Missouri Court of Appeals en banc. In May 2013, a divided en banc court reinstated the jury's punitive damages verdict. Doncasters appealed to the Missouri Supreme Court, and also informed the plaintiffs that it would file a certiorari petition with the U.S. Supreme Court to address the serious constitutional issues raised by the jury's verdict.

After prolonged, intense negotiations, the parties reached a settlement whereby Doncasters paid a significantly discounted amount. In September 2013, the trial court approved the settlement as fair and reasonable.

Delacroix, et al. v. Doncasters, Inc., et al., Case No. ED 97375 (Mo. App., East. Dist.)