The case filed by Vanessa Bryant against the owner of the helicopter and pilot claims that the operator was reckless and that he should have known that conditions were not appropriate for flying on the day her husband and daughter died.

Bryant’s widow filed the case approximately one month after her husband Kobe, her teenage daughter Gigi, and seven other people died in a crash near a mountain range in southern California on a foggy morning. All of the occupants were on their way to a basketball tournament and all occupants on board died in the accident on January 26th, 2020.  

The business who owned the helicopter is called Island Express. They were under orders to only fly under visual flight rules, which means that they should not have been flying on that day. Weather reports for the Calabasas area where the crash happened showed poor visibility at the time.  

The second defendant in the lawsuit is pilot Ara George Zobayan. The initial pleadings claim that the pilot was reckless for operating the vehicle in poor conditions on a downward slope. The vehicle was moving at approximately 180 miles per hour in the moments before the crash. The filings further state that the pilot was negligent for not monitoring weather conditions properly before flying and during the course of the flight. 

The recklessness claim is related to the pilot’s failure to control the helicopter and navigate around natural obstacles in the mountainous area. The case further claims that he had an opportunity to safely abort the flight before the crash. He had also been cited and disciplined in 2015 for various violations when he flew in another dangerous situation with reduced visibility.

Another point mentioned in the pleading was related to the unsafe condition of the helicopter. The lawsuit does not give many details, but witnesses in the area claimed to hear strange noises coming from the helicopter in the minutes before the crash.  

For the final element of damages, a number of factors will be considered. The emotional harm that the victims experienced in the moments before the crash was listed. Punitive damages were also mentioned, but an amount was not given. Punitive damages are an amount that is meant to punish a defendant for reckless or inappropriate behavior rather than compensate a victim for specific losses. The news report did not mention future lost wages specifically, but both Kobe and Gigi had large earning potential and this should be a very large portion of damages. Loss of affection, companionship, and support were also mentioned as a form of damages, which is standard in a wrongful death case. 

A representative for Island Express issued a response to the tabloid organization TMZ that initially broke the story. They said that the accident was tragic, but they have no further comment on the pending litigation. 

The rules of wrongful death lawsuits

Wrongful death claims are similar to civil negligence claims. They attempt to make the person responsible for a death compensate the family for losses such as medical expenses, funeral and burial, and future lost wages. Each state has wrongful death laws with rules that allow certain family members to make a claim on a deceased person’s behalf within a year or two of the accident.  

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