The brother of Ara Zobayan, the pilot in the helicopter crash that killed all nine people aboard including NBA legend Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna Bryant, has claimed the passengers had fault and were negligent in a new response to the wrongful death lawsuit filed by widowed Vanessa Bryant earlier this year.
In the filing, obtained by CNN, attorneys for Berge Zobayan ask for the lawsuit to be dismissed, alleging "any injuries or damages to plaintiffs and/or their decedent were directly caused in full or in part by the negligence or fault of plaintiffs and/or their decedent, including their knowing and voluntary encounter with the risks involved, and that this negligence was a substantial factor in causing their purported damages, for which this answering defendant bears no responsibility."
Vanessa Bryant's attorney filed her complaint on Feb. 24, accusing helicopter company Island Express and Ara Zobayan responsible for the crash, citing negligence in relation to the flying conditions. The complaint alleges the pilot "failed to properly monitor and assess the weather prior to takeoff," "failed to abort the flight when he knew of the cloudy conditions" and "failed to properly and safely operate the helicopter resulting in a crash." As for Island Express, the complaint argued the company "knew or should have known" that Ara Zobayan had been previously cited by the FAA for violating "the visual flight rules minimums by flying into an area of reduced visibility from weather conditions."
Los Angeles-based trial lawyer Tom Lallas told PEOPLE upon Berge Zobayan's response earlier this month that while the language seems harsh in the new documents, they are a standard part of trial preparation in a wrongful death case like this. "In order to preserve all of your defenses for trial, you have to state them as affirmative defenses at the time you file an answer," Lallas told the outlet. "That doesn’t mean that the defenses have any merit whatsoever or that there’s a factual basis for the defenses, it just means in an abundance of caution the lawyer representing the defendant is stating defenses that the lawyer anticipates might be a part of the case in discovery or trial."
Lallas added that Berge Zobayan's legal team is "trying to preserve the right to attribute fault, blame or responsibility to someone else, and that’s just classic insurance defense 101 behavior." He explained, "The first affirmative defense that lawyers always state in an answer is failure to state a claim. That doesn’t mean that the first amended complaint fails to state a claim, it’s just that the lawyers always want to preserve that affirmative defense."