It’s not always the pilot of an aircraft would have grounds to sue passengers for a fatal crash landing. However, in the case of Krinitt v. Dept of Fish and Game, the mother of a pilot killed in a helicopter accident is suing the state government agency that contracted with the pilot’s employer for a job.
Plaintiff, as executrix of pilot’s estate, alleges defendant government agency’s employees were negligent, and their actions were the cause of the crash. The case was recently before the Idaho Supreme Court, which reversed an earlier grant of summary judgment favoring the defense.
The high court determined lower court erred in its summary judgment decision because the facts are to be liberally construed in favor of the non-moving party, with all reasonable inferences taken from the record to be drawn in their favor. Because it was the defense filing for summary judgment, the facts were to be considered in the light most favorable to plaintiff. That didn’t happen here. The reversal means plaintiff may now proceed to trial with her case.
According to court records, the helicopter crash happened in 2010, resulting in the death of the pilot, and ultimately both passengers, who worked for the state Department of Fish and Game.
The wrongful death lawsuit filed by the pilot’s mother asserts the department contracted with pilot’s employer to fly the two department employees from a base in Washington to a river in Idaho, in order to collect information on the spawning of salmon. This particular helicopter was equipped with a bubble canopy and two bubble doors, allowing passengers – seated on either side of the pilot – to look down over the river. All flight instruments were located in the middle, and were controlled by the pilot.
Prior to the flight, the pilot informed both passengers they had to maintain control of any items with them at all times during the flight. One of the employees was equipped with a metal clipboard, which she intended to use to record observations of the other employee. The pilot informed the department worker that she was responsible for that clip board, and had to hold onto it at all times.
The plan was to land near the river, refuel and then head back. However, about 35 miles away from the scheduled landing place, the pilot announced over the radio there would be an unscheduled stop. It’s not clear why. A witness who was installing a sprinkler system nearby took note of the fact the helicopter was landing nearby. He watched it for a moment, and it appeared to be descending normally. He looked away. Then he heard a bang and looked up. The helicopter was rotating on its axis, and an object was spinning off the tail rotor. One of the doors was wide open, and it looked like a person was standing at the edge, deciding whether to jump.
The helicopter continued to spiral, and finally crashed. The pilot and the worker who had the clipboard were killed instantly. The other worker died shortly thereafter.
Investigators determined the clip board struck the tail rotor, causing the assembly to separate from the helicopter, resulting in a crash.
When defendants filed for summary judgment, they asserted plaintiffs had presented no proof defense’s employee was actually in control of the clipboard at the time of the crash. They also asserted that the clipboard hitting the rotor was an unforeseeable accident.
District court granted summary judgment. In its reversal, the Idaho Supreme Court found this to be erroneous. The undisputed facts are defendant employee had possession of the clipboard at take-off, pilot told her she was in charge of it and no one else planned to use it during the trip. In light of all this, the reasonable inference is that defense employee had the clipboard and likely lost control of it at some point.
The circumstantial evidence in this case was sufficient to overcome summary judgment and permit plaintiff to move forward with her claim.
Call Allred & Allred P.C. at 334.396.9200 to speak with a Montgomery personal injury lawyer.
Krinitt v. Dept of Fish and Game, Sept. 25, 2015, Idaho Supreme Court
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