In Krinitt v. Idaho Department of Fish and Game, 2015 Opinion No. 89 (Sept. 25, 2015), the Idaho Supreme Court reversed a district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of a defendant. The decision is a good illustration of the relevance of circumstantial evidence on summary judgment and a basic summary judgment standard: all disputed facts must be liberally construed and all reasonable inferences must be drawn in favor of the non-moving party.

The case involved a wrongful death action stemming from a helicopter crash. The plaintiff’s son flew employees of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game to survey salmon spawning on the Selway River. The helicopter crashed, and an investigation revealed that a clipboard of one of the Department’s employees struck the tail rotor, causing the crash. The plaintiff claimed the accident was caused by the negligence of the Department or its employees.

On summary judgment, the district court found that the plaintiff failed to show who had possession of the clipboard when it left the cockpit of the helicopter and how the clipboard left the cockpit. The Supreme Court rejected that analysis, noting that district court erroneously required the plaintiff to prove his case with direct evidence. According to the Court, “[c]ircumstantial evidence is competent to establish negligence and proximate cause.” To that end, the Court pointed to evidence supporting reasonable inferences that the Department’s employee failed to maintain control of the clipboard during the flight.

The Court also addressed the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur and negligence per se. The Court reversed the district court’s ruling that res ipsa loquitur did not apply and upheld its ruling that the plaintiff failed to establish negligence per se.