Point Fire, 1995
Island Fork Fire, 1999
Point Fire Case Study
Point Fire Accident Investigation
A. Point Fire Overview
D. Supporting Data
- Sequence of Events
- Organization Charts
- Site Investigation
- Fire Behavior Report
- Property Damage Report
- Witness Statements
- Outline of Kuna Wildland Training Provided by BLM
E. Records and Reports
- Preplanned Dispatch
- BLM Radio Transmission Log
- Ada County Dispatch Log
- Fire Incident Status Summary
- Escaped Fire Situation Analysis
- Wildland Fire Entrapment Report
- Technical Analysis of Personal Protective Equipment
- Vehicle Inspection
- Weather Reports
Island Fork Fire Accident Investigation
Point Fire — U.S. District Court Civil Case
Ruling on I.C.'s Decisions - Nov. 10, 1998
• Factual Background
• Legal Analysis
Ruling on BLM Liability - Feb. 19, 1999
• Legal Standards
Ruling on Public Safety Officer Benefits
Colorado Firecamp extends special thanks to Linda Perkins, BLM
Idaho State FOIA Coordinator, for her friendly assistance in gathering
the Point Fire documents. BLM FOIA Letter
FINDINGS OF FACT
AND CONCLUSIONS OF LAW
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF IDAHO
DEANNA C. BUTTRAM, et al,
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
Civil Case No. 96-0324-S-BLW
Civil Case No. 96-0452-S-BLW
Civil Case No. 97-0129-S-BLW
The plaintiffs--Joshua Oliver’s father and mother
and William Buttram’s wife and son--brought this suit against
the BLM under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA).
Under the FTCA, the Government is liable “in
the same manner and to the same extent as a private individual under
like circumstances.” 28 U.S.C.§ 2674.
Whether a private person would be liable under like
circumstances is determined by application of "the law of the
place where the act or omission occurred.” 28 U.S.C. §
Because this case arose in Idaho, Idaho tort law will
govern the result.
Under Idaho law, a plaintiff must show the following
by a preponderance of the evidence to prove negligence: (1) a duty,
recognized by law, requiring a defendant to conform to a certain standard
of conduct; (2) a breach of that duty; (3) a causal connection between
the defendant's conduct and the resulting injuries; and (4) actual
loss or damage. See West v. Sonke, 968 P.2d 228 (1998).
Under Idaho law, an employer "has a duty to exercise
reasonable care commensurate with the nature of its business in order
to protect employees from hazards incident to the employment and to
provide him with safe tools, appliances, machinery, and working places,"
although the employer has no duty to warn of a danger that was not
reasonably foreseeable. West, 968 P.2d at 237.
A danger is reasonable foreseeable if it "is
apparent, or should be apparent, to one in the position of the actor.
The actor's conduct must be judged in the light of the possibilities
apparent to him at the time, and not by looking backward 'with the
wisdom born of the event.'" W. Page Keeton et al., Prosser
and Keeton on the Law of Torts § 31, at 170 (5th ed. 1984).
"In light of the recognizable risk, the conduct, to be negligent,
must be unreasonable. No person can be expected to guard against harm
from events which are not reasonably to be anticipated at all, or
are so unlikely to occur that the risk, although recognizable, would
commonly be disregarded." Id. "On the other hand,
if the risk is an appreciable one, and the possible consequences are
serious, the question is not one of mathematical probability alone
. . . . It may be highly improbable that lightning will strike at
any given place or time; but the possibility is there, and it may
require precautions for the protection of inflammables. As the gravity
of the possible harm increases, the apparent likelihood of its occurrence
need be correspondingly less to generate a duty of precaution."
The term "proximate cause" means "a
cause which, in natural or probable sequence, produced the damage
complained of. It need not be the only cause. It is sufficient if
it is a substantial factor concurring with some other cause acting
at the same time, which in combination with it, causes the damage."
Fussell v. St. Clair, 120 Idaho 591, 595, 818 P.2d 295, 298
"There may be one or more proximate causes of
an injury. When the negligent conduct of two or more persons contributes
concurrently as substantial factors in bringing about an injury, the
conduct of each may be a proximate cause of the injury regardless
of the extent to which each contributes to the injury." Idaho
Jury Instructions #230.
The comparative fault of a person or his legal representative
which is as great as the comparative fault of the defendant bars recovery
of damages for his death or injury. See Idaho Code § 6-801. Comparative
fault which is not as great as the comparative fault of the defendant
diminishes the damages allowed in proportion to the amount of comparative
fault attributable to the person recovering. Id.
When the Court is apportioning negligence under the
comparative fault provisions of § 6-801, it may include parties
to the transaction which resulted in the injury, whether or not those
parties are parties to the lawsuit. See Pocatello Industrial Park
Co. v. Steel West, Inc., 101 Idaho 783, 621 P.2d 399 (1980).
In an heir's action for wrongful death, the negligence
of the decedent is imputed to the plaintiff. See Adams v. Krueger,
124 Idaho 74, 856 P.2d 864 (1993).
The elements of damage in a death case are as follows:
(1) the reasonable expenses incurred for the decedent's funeral; (2)
the reasonable value of hospital/ambulance care received prior to
decedent's death; (3) the reasonable value of the loss of decedent's
services, comfort, society, and conjugal relationship, and the present
cash value of such loss that is reasonably certain to occur in the
future, taking into consideration the decedent's life expectancy and
circumstances; and (4) the amounts decedent would have contributed
to the support of plaintiff, and the present cash value of the amount
of money decedent would have been reasonably certain in the future
to have contributed to the support of plaintiff, taking into consideration
decedent's life expectancy and circumstances. See Idaho Jury
Damages are not to be awarded for any grief or sorrow
plaintiff may have suffered by reason of the death of decedent or
for any pain or suffering of the decedent before he died. See
Idaho Jury Instructions 911-2.
In a parent's action for wrongful death of a child,
the trier of fact may consider the parent's degree if intimacy with
his/her child in setting damages. See Gardner v. Hobbs, 69
Idaho 288, 206 P.2d 539 (1949).
Noneconomic damages are limited to $400,000, plus
the percentage amount by which the Idaho Industrial Commission adjusts
the average annual wage. See Idaho Code § 6-1603.
As of this date, the noneconomic damages cap under
Idaho Code § 6-1603 is $590,291.26.
Under Idaho Code § 6-1603, the jury is not to
be instructed on the statutory cap. The statute thus contemplates
that a jury could award more than the cap. If the jury also attributes
fault to multiple defendants, or to the plaintiff and defendants,
an issue arises as to whether that the verdict should be reduced to
the cap amount first before the comparative fault reductions are made,
or whether the comparative fault reductions should be made first,
and if the verdict remains above the cap, only at that point reduce
the verdict to the cap amount. The statute and the Idaho courts offer
no guidance on this issue.see footnote #3
The plaintiffs urge the Court to apply comparative fault before reducing
any award to the cap amount, and they cite a Colorado Supreme Court
decision in support of their argument. In General Electric Company
v. Niemet, 866 P.2d 1361 (1994), five members of the Colorado
Supreme Court interpreted a similar Colorado statute to require that
the court reduce the verdict before applying the statutory cap. Two
Justices dissented, finding that such a result would allow plaintiffs
to get around the statutory cap when they were injured by multiple
defendants. The Court finds that the dissent has the better of the
argument. The majority opinion relies heavily on legislature history
rather than the language of the statute. There is, however, no similar
legislative history available concerning the Idaho statute. Instead,
the Court is left with nothing but the language of Idaho Code §
6-1603. That language is intended to limit a plaintiff’s recovery
regardless of the number of defendants involved; there is no exception
for cases where the plaintiff is injured by multiple defendants. Plaintiffs'
interpretation, however, would essentially read such an exception
into the statue. For example, if a victim is injured by one defendant
and has $2 million in noneconomic damages, the victim would collect
the statutory cap, $590,291.26. If another victim with noneconomic
damages of $2 million is injured by two defendants, each 50% at fault,
the Court would--under plaintiffs' proposal--apply the comparative
fault first, reducing the award against each defendant to $1 million,
and would then apply the statutory cap, reducing each award to $590,291.26,
permitting the plaintiff a total recovery of over $1 million. Thus,
the plaintiff injured by two defendants would collect twice the cap
amount. That result essentially places an exception in the statute
that the legislature did not intend. The statute is a cap on the plaintiff's
total recovery with no exceptions for multiple defendant cases. Thus,
the Court rejects plaintiffs' interpretation of Idaho Code §
6-1603. See General Electric, 866 P.2d at 1369 (C.J. Rovira
dissenting) (finding that the Colorado legislature could not have
intended, in drafting a similar statute, to allow, "by the sheer
fortuity of being injured by multiple defendants, one plaintiff [to]
collect more damages than a second plaintiff with identical injuries
who had the misfortune of being injured by only one person").
Payments that Ms. Buttram received under Idaho's Workers'
Compensation laws, the federal Social Security Administration benefit
programs, and private life insurance, are not deductible under Idaho
Code § 6-1606 as compensation received from collateral sources
for personal injury.
footnote #3 The lack
of Idaho case law interpreting this Idaho statute raises a question
whether the issue should be certified to the Idaho Supreme Court.
It would not make sense, however, to delay this decision to await
an answer on certification. First, the Idaho Supreme Court will
need this decision to place the issue in its proper context. Second,
the parties are free to file a motion to reconsider after receiving
this decision, and the Court can determine at that point whether
the issue should be certified. The Court expresses no opinion
at this point whether certification is appropriate.