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Krinitt v. Dept. of Fish and Game – Helicopter Crash Liability of Passengers

Although air travel is statistically quite safe, there are still a fair amount of accidents every year, particularly when it comes to smaller aircraft, including helicopters. helicopterseenthroughleaves

Some might think of these ventures as primarily reserved for military or government service workers, but keep in mind there are plenty of outfits in Southern Florida that advertise ocean helicopter rides to tourists. The potential risk is one worth considering.

The good news is the helicopter accident rate in the U.S. appears to be declining, according to data from the U.S. Helicopter Safety Team. However, when these accidents do occur, it’s important for those affected to consider all potential legal options.

In the recent case of Krinitt v. Dept. of Fish and Game, it was the mother of a deceased pilot who took action against the employer of the passengers. It seems left-field until an analysis of the facts.

According to Idaho Supreme Court records, decedent worked as a helicopter pilot for a company that was contracted by the state wildlife agency to fly two of its employees over a nearby river to document data on salmon spawning for a state report. The helicopter was equipped with a bubble canopy, that allowed the pilot to sit in the middle while passengers on either side could view out the side panels.

Prior to take-off, the pilot briefed the two passengers. He told them they were to maintain control of all items with them inside the helicopter. He specifically told the female employee that she was responsible for the clip board she carried in her hand. It was about 9×11 and nearly an inch thick.

About 40 minutes into the flight, the pilot indicated to traffic control that he would be making an unscheduled stop about 35 miles from their original destination. It’s not clear why. However, a man who was installing a sprinkler system at a retirement home nearby took note of the fact the helicopter was landing. At that point, it did not appear to be out-of-control. He then looked away. Then, he heard a loud bang, noted something was coming off the back of the craft and it was not rotating on its axis. He saw the right door was open wide. It appeared a person standing there was contemplating whether to jump. But the aircraft crashed soon after. All three people inside were killed.

Investigation later revealed it was that clipboard that had fallen and struck the tail rotor, which caused the rotor assembly to break off, causing the helicopter to crash.

Plaintiff, pilot’s mother, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the state agency, alleging negligence by both the department and its employees. Defendants moved for a summary judgment, arguing there was no proof one of the employees was in possession of the clipboard when it fell out of the aircraft and that the accident was unforeseeable.

The district court granted that motion, but the state supreme court reversed.

Summary judgment may only be granted when the collective evidence presented thusfar indicates no genuine issue of material fact. However in this case, when viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party (the plaintiff), there remained a genuine issue of material fact because strong circumstantial evidence pointed to the fact that the state employee was the one who had possession of the clipboard just before the accident. This was a “reasonable inference,” and there was further evidence that the clipboard would not have left the helicopter unless the employee opened the door and failed to maintain control of the clipboard.

Whether the agency will in fact be liable, however, will remain a question for a jury to decide.

If you have been injured in an accident, contact the Hollander Law Firm at (888) 751-7770 for a free and confidential consultation. There is no fee unless we win.

Additional Resources:

Krinitt v. Dept. of Fish and Game, Sept. 25, 2015, Idaho Supreme Court

More Blog Entries:

Fatal Crash Kills Innocent 20-Year-Old and Florida Drunk Driver Who Was Five Times Over Legal Limit, Sept. 24, 2015, Palm Beach Airplane Accident Lawyer Blog