The opinion of the court was delivered by: HUYETT
On August 22, 1985, a ten-person jury returned a defense verdict in this case involving death resulting from the crash of an airplane manufactured by defendant Cessna Aircraft Company. Plaintiff Ada I. Stevens, the former wife of decedent Leon Stevens, has moved for a new trial. She claims that the verdict was against the weight of the evidence and that prejudicial error was committed during the course of and after the trial. As explained below, I find no reason to order a new trial, so I will deny the motion.
Early in the morning of January 24, 1980, Mr. Stevens was killed when the Cessna 411A aircraft that he was piloting crashed shortly after takeoff at Port Columbus Airport in Columbus, Ohio. Mr. Stevens, the only occupant of the airplane, had been licensed as a commercial pilot by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) since 1973. At the time of the accident, he was operating a cargo route for Volunteer Aviation, Inc., an air charter service located in his hometown of Clarksville, Tennessee. His previous experience with Volunteer involved flights on Cessna 402 airplanes; he had never before operated a Cessna 411A. The 411A is similar to the 402, but the 411A has a somewhat smaller rudder and larger engine.
Mr. Stevens left Clarksville on the evening of January 23d, and made one stop in Louisville, Kentucky, before arriving at Columbus. After taking on cargo at Columbus, Mr. Stevens took off at 2:40 a.m. He slowly climbed to about 100 feet, and then lost power in his left engine. Within seconds, he called the tower identifying the emergency. Immediately, the tower cleared him to land, and he then made a shallow turn to the left. Nineteen seconds after Mr. Stevens first notified the tower of the engine failure, his plane crashed, and was consumed by fire. Later examination of the aircraft revealed that the landing gear had never been retracted and that the left propeller had not been feathered.
At the time of engine loss, the plane's speed was between 115 and 120 miles per hour. After the engine failed, the speed dropped to less than 100 m.p.h., causing the aircraft to stall and then plummet. The 411A owner's manual contained the following instruction:
RECOMMENDED SAFE SINGLE-ENGINE SPEED. Although the aircraft is controllable at the minimum control speed, the aircraft performance is so far below optimum that continued flight near the ground is improbable. A more suitable recommended safe single-engine speed is 105 MPH, since at this speed altitude can be maintained more easily while the landing gear is being retracted and the propeller is being feathered.
At the time of his death, Mr. Stevens, a 29-year-old Army warrant officer, was enrolled as a full-time student at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. Mr. Stevens, who had accumulated about 2500 hours of flight time with Army helicopters, was being paid by the Army to pursue a degree in aeronautical science at Embry-Riddle. At the same time, he was employed by Volunteer as a part-time cargo pilot.
Mr. Stevens had been married four times, and had five children -- two with plaintiff, his first wife; one with his second wife; and two with a woman whom he had never married. At the time of the crash, he was living with Sandra Graham, a different woman to whom he was not married. On January 22d, Mr. Stevens and Graham quarreled. According to Graham, Stevens left their home that night and went drinking. Volunteer chief pilot Norman Knofs testified that Mr. Stevens had not been scheduled to fly to Columbus on the night of the 23d, but requested the assignment a few hours before take-off because he wanted to get out of his house.
Mrs. Stevens brought this strict liability suit as administratrix of the estate of decedent. She contended that the airplane was defective in the following ways: the rudder was too small to control the plane in single-engine flight; excessive rudder pedal forces were needed to control the craft in single-engine flight; the floor of the cockpit contained a contour interruption that hindered a pilot's ability to exert force on the rudder pedal; the seat back was overly flexible, also making it difficult for a pilot to exert necessary pressure on the rudder pedal; and the owner's manual contained inaccurate and misleading information resulting in a failure to warn. She claimed that the instruction on minimum airspeed was ...