It was reported this week that Kobe Bryant's widow, Vanessa Bryant, is suing the operator of the helicopter that Kobe was traveling when he and eight others, including the couple's daughter Gianna, died in a crash last month.
The Sikorsky S-76 helicopter was flying in thick fog before it crashed after hitting a hillside in Calabasas, California, killing everyone on board including Kobe, Gianna, Gianna's basketball teammates Alyssa Altobelli and Payton Chester, Altobelli's parents John and Keri Altobelli, Chester's mom Sarah Chester, girls' basketball coach Christina Mauser and pilot Ara Zobayan.
Read on to learn more about the lawsuit.
Vanessa's complaint against Island Express Helicopters, Island Express Holding Corp. and the estate of the pilot, Ara Zobayan, was filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court on Monday, Feb. 24, the Los Angeles Times reports. The suit claims that Zobayan failed "to use ordinary care in piloting the subject aircraft" and was negligent.
"Defendant Island Express Helicopters authorized, directed and/or permitted a flight with full knowledge that the subject helicopter was flying into unsafe weather conditions," the lawsuit states.
Vanessa's complaint is centered on alleged acts of negligence by Zobayan including "failing to abort the flight, failing to monitor and assess the weather, and failure to keep a safe distance between natural obstacles and the helicopter."
The lawsuit is contending that Island Express is vicariously liable for Zobayan's alleged negligence and that Bryant died "as a direct result of the negligent conduct of Zobayan." Vicarious liability refers to a finding that an employer is negligent for the wrongful acts of an employee.
The suit claims that Island Express "promoted and engaged in unnecessary and needlessly risky means of transport under the circumstances" and says the company did not have "an adequate safety policy for cancellation of flights into known unsafe weather conditions." On the morning of the crash, there was thick fog in the area and eyewitnesses reported that Zobayan piloted the helicopter in ways deemed "erratic and treacherous."
The lawsuit also brings up the fact that in 2015, Zobayan was cited by the Federal Aviation Administration for violating visual flight rules minimums. The complaint alleges that Island Express did not provide "adequate training and/or supervision" after the citation "to ensure the negligent action did not re-occur." Zobayan self-reported the 2015 incident, which the FAA deemed to not be a part of a trend.
In addition, Island Express did not have the necessary federal certification for the helicopter to fly in the circumstances present on the day of the crash, as Zobayan was obligated to fly passengers only in conditions of sufficient visibility to navigate visually.
A preliminary report from the National Transportation Safety Board stated that two helicopter's engines were recovered from the crash and showed no signs of failure, Sports Illustrated reports. It remains possible that the helicopter had other mechanical issues, but the NTSB could take over a year to conclude its investigation. Island Express suspended operations indefinitely following the crash.
In addition to Zobayan, the suit accuses Island Express of negligence for not installing a terrain alarm system in the helicopter, which could have warned the pilot that he was nearing a hillside. Federal regulations did not require the helicopter to have such a system.
The 27-count complaint is seeking compensatory and punitive damages of an unspecified amount. If Vanessa's lawsuit is successful, Island Express could face massive financial damages, as potential recoveries in wrongful death cases factors including the victim's life expectancy and earning potential. Gianna, at only 13, was on a path to becoming a successful WNBA player, and her father, at 41, had recently begun a lucrative second act of his career. There is also the possibility that the families of the other victims could sue Island Express.
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