The deaths of Kobe and Gianna Bryant along with the other people who were on the helicopter with them shocked the world. As thousands of mourners went to the Staples Center in Los Angeles for a memorial service to remember the victims, Kobe Bryant’s widow, Vanessa Bryant, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the pilot’s estate and the helicopter company on several grounds. The civil complaint was filed in the Los Angeles Superior Court. While Kobe Bryant’s estate is estimated at $600 million, there are several reasons why Vanessa Bryant may have filed a lawsuit other than to add to her family’s vast wealth.
Key legal issues in the wrongful death lawsuit
Vanessa Bryant’s lawsuit names the estate of Ara Zobayan, who was the pilot who also died in the crash, Island Express Helicopters, and Island Express Holdings as defendants. Her claims against the estate are based on negligence, and the claims against Island Express Helicopters and Island Express Holdings are based on principles of vicarious liability. Note: For a full copy of the actual lawsuit filed in Los Angeles Superior Court click here: 1784052393(1-72)
Claims against the estate of Zobayan
Vanessa Bryant stated three legal claims against the pilot’s estate. She argued that he was negligent in failing to abort the flight. She also argued that Zobayan was negligent in his failure to monitor and assess the weather conditions. Finally, she argued that Zobayan negligently failed to maintain a safe distance between the helicopter and natural obstacles.
To prevail on negligence claims, plaintiffs are required to prove the elements of their claims by a preponderance of the evidence, which can be understood to mean that it was more likely than not to have occurred as the plaintiff argued. For each of the negligence claims against the estate of Zobayan, Vanessa Bryant will need to present evidence that proves the following elements of negligence:
- Zobayan owed a duty of care to Kobe and Gianna Bryant.
- Zobayan’s acts or omissions breached the duty of care.
- The breach of Zobayan’s duty of care caused the accident and the resulting deaths.
- Vanessa Bryant suffered harm as a result.
On the day of the accident, there were reports of heavy fog in the area where the crash occurred. Other companies had grounded their helicopters because of the conditions. However, Zobayan still decided to fly the helicopter despite the conditions. As the pilot, he certainly owed a duty of care to all of the passengers on the flight. Vanessa Bryant argued that he should have either grounded the flight or should have aborted it when the conditions worsened. If she prevails on the negligence claims against the pilot’s estate, she might recover damages from the estate. However, the company for which he was employed might end up being primarily responsible for paying damages because of vicarious or direct liability of its own.
Claims against Island Express Helicopters and Island Express Holdings
The claims against Island Express Helicopters and Island Express Holdings are based on a legal theory called respondeat superior. Under this principle, employers are liable for the negligence of their employees when they are acting in the scope and course of their employment.
Zobayan had been employed by Island Express Helicopters and its parent company, Island Express Holdings, for more than 20 years as a helicopter pilot. To prevail in a claim based on the vicarious liability of the company, Vanessa Bryant would first need to prove that Zobayan was negligent and that his negligent actions or omissions directly or proximately caused the accident, Kobe and Gianna’s deaths, and her resulting harms. She would also need to prove that the employment relationship existed between Zobayan and the company and that Zobayan was working in the scope and course of his employment at the time of the accident.
Another potential claim that could be asserted against Island Express Helicopters and Island Express Holdings might be a claim of negligent hiring, retention, or supervision. This type of claim might apply if the company hired, retained, or supervised Zobayan negligently. For example, if Zobayan had a history of recklessness in his flying, the company might be directly liable for retaining him.
In Zobayan’s case, he received a reprimand from the Federal Aviation Administration in 2015 after he flew into airspace that had visibility that was much too low in 2015. However, there is little else to suggest whether he had a pattern of such actions. Whether this type of claim might be asserted would depend on how the company handled the previous incident.
Another issue in the case is that the company did not have the proper federal certification for flying in low-visibility conditions. Under the company’s certification, Zobayan was only authorized to fly the helicopter in conditions that allowed him to visually navigate. In this case, however, Zobayan did not have any ability to visually navigate at the time of the accident because of the thick fog.
Wrongful death claims
In California, only certain parties are allowed to file wrongful death claims. The parties who can file these types of claims are people with specific familial relationships with the deceased. In the first category of people who have the ability to file claims are spouses. As Kobe Bryant’s spouse, Vanessa Bryant has the necessary standing to file the wrongful death claim against the estate of the pilot and his employer. She likewise has the ability to file the wrongful death claim on behalf of her daughter as her daughter’s surviving parent.
The surviving family members of people who are killed because of the negligence of others will go through a few steps before an attorney will determine whether the claim has merits. The first step that the lawyer will take is to look at the relationship of the claimant to the decedent to make certain that he or she is the right person to file the lawsuit. The attorney will next need to value the claim by figuring out the actual financial losses that the plaintiff has suffered. Finally, the lawyer will want to learn more about the quality of the relationship between the plaintiff and the victim to figure out whether they might have grounds to request loss of consortium damages and other noneconomic losses.
Reasons why Vanessa Bryant might have decided to file a lawsuit
There are several reasons why Vanessa Bryant might have decided to file a lawsuit against the company and the pilot’s estate even though she is already wealthy. Filing a wrongful death lawsuit might allow her to hold the responsible parties accountable for the loss of her husband and daughter. Wrongful death lawsuits can allow people to hold others accountable for their actions even when no criminal charges are filed. She might also have decided to file a lawsuit against the company as a prophylactic measure against potential claims that the families of the other passengers might file against Kobe Bryant’s estate. For example, if Kobe Bryant ordered the pilot to continue flying, the other family members might have grounds to file lawsuits against his estate. There is no evidence that this occurred, however.
Get help from an experienced personal injury and wrongful death lawyer
If you have lost a loved one because of the negligence of another person or company, you may have legal rights to recover damages. An experienced personal injury and wrongful death attorney at the law firm of Steven M. Sweat, Personal Injury Lawyers can review the facts and circumstances of what occurred and explain the merits and potential value of your claim. Contact us today to schedule a consultation by calling us at 866.966.5240.