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Stollenwerk, et al. v. Tri-West Health Care Alliance

Posted: Mon Sep 29, 2014 11:35 pm
by Administrator

9th Circuit Holds Circumstantial Evidence May Prove ID Theft Proximate Harm. On November 20, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit held in an unpublished opinion that circumstantial evidence of a causal relationship in the context of identity fraud may be sufficient to prove proximate harm. Stollenwerk, et al. v. Tri-West Health Care Alliance, No. 05-16990, (9th Cir. Nov. 20, 2007). In this case, the plaintiffÂ’s personal information was stolen during a burglary at the Tri-West Health Care Alliance headquarters. The plaintiff soon thereafter became the victim of six identity fraud incidents. The plaintiff then sued the health care company for negligence. In reversing the district courtÂ’s decision to grant summary judgment, the Ninth Circuit held that it is reasonable to infer under the facts of the case that the burglary was related to the subsequent identity theft. The court held that the connection need not be proven by direct evidence since it is a matter of common knowledge from which a jury could reasonably draw inferences regarding its probative value in establishing causation. The court reasoned that, in order to survive summary judgment, the plaintiff need not show that the theft was the sole cause of the identity fraud incidents, only that it was, more likely than not, a substantial factor in bringing about the result, and a factor without which the injury would not have occurred. Citing Wisener v. State of Arizona, 598 P.2d 511, 513 (Ariz. 1979), Robertson v. Sixpense Inns of Am., Inc., 789 P.2d 1040, 1047 (Ariz. 1990). Here, the plaintiff provided evidence that (i) the identity fraud began shortly after the theft of his personal information, (ii) the kind of information stolen was the same kind needed to commit the identity fraud at issue, (iii) he had not previously suffered any such incidents of identity fraud, and (iv) he did not transmit personal information over the internet and he shreded all mail containing personal information, thereby eliminating other possible avenues by which thieves could have obtained the plaintiffÂ’s personal information. The court held that the combination of such circumstantial evidence and common knowledge may provide a basis from which the causal sequence may be inferred, and as such, is a question reserved for the jury. For a copy of the unpublished opinion in Stollenwerk, please see ... -16990.PDF.