Vanessa Bryant has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Island Express — the helicopter company responsible for operating the flight which ended in the tragic death of her husband, Kobe Bryant, their daughter, Gianna Bryant, and seven others. According to a report from TMZ, the suit alleges that the extremely foggy weather that day presented a serious danger to potential flight operations, the low ceiling of the fog acting as a blinding agent. Beyond that, the case alleges that Island Express was only permitted to operate under visual flight rules, or VFR, as opposed to IFR, or instrument flight rules — the latter state of affairs also being referred to as "blind flying."
The aircraft's speed at the time of impact — listed by the lawsuit as 180 mph, in a steep decline — was also listed as an aggravating factor. The pilot at the controls on the day of the fatal accident, Ara George Zobayan, was named as "reckless," per TMZ, as was Island Express as an operator.
In addition to claiming that the weather conditions were not suitable for flying, the lawsuit also calls for restitution for "pre-impact" terror, or the emotional trauma presumably suffered both by the basketball star and his daughter in the moments before the helicopter crashed.
A follow-up report from TMZ specifies that it is unlikely that Island Express will remain in business following the conclusion of the lawsuit, and others which are likely to be launched in the coming days. The report states that the company is only outfitted with insurance amounting to $50 million in liability coverage, an amount which may be deemed insufficient enough given the gravity of the tragedy and the likely number of claimants. Insurance expert Matt Drummelsmith detailed that since the incident will almost certainly be chalked up to pilot error, it is extremely unlikely that Island Express will be able to re-attain insurance, essentially forcing the operation to shut down.
Vanessa Bryant's Wrongful Death Lawsuit Is Seeking Unspecified DamagesThe lawsuit does not state the sum total of punitive and compensatory damages sought, but the sheer number of accusations levied against Island Express indicate that Bryant is quite serious in terms of her legal intent. Aside from the aforementioned issues surrounding the pilot's speed and ability to fly safely under the challenging weather conditions, accusations of several instances of neglect — a failure to judge or analyze the day's weather, and to abort the trip when it became clear that it was unsafe under proscribed terms — also make themselves known.
According to TMZ, the lawsuit also states that the helicopter was "not safe," although any particulars on this score were reportedly not present.
The Pilot, Ara George Zobayan, Had Previously Been Disciplined For Violating Safety Protocols, Lawsuit AllegesIn addition to other elements brought forward by the suit, the claim that the pilot — Ara George Zobayan — had been disciplined in 2015 for violating VFR safety protocols was also of note. Zobayan had reportedly flown into an airspace plagued by reduced visibility at that time, and per The Prince George Citizen, was counseled by a FAA investigator over the incident. After a discussion in which Zobayan attempted to overrule a tower command coming from LAX — Los Angeles International Airport — to refrain from entering an area of reduced visibility, he was subjected to an investigation over his infraction. However, the result of the investigation found that while the pilot's actions were made in error, they did not constitute a major breach of conduct.
"There are no indications that this is a repeated incident and there are no signs that this incident is a trend with Mr. Zobayan," the incident report read.
"[Zobayan] admitted his error, took responsibility for his action, and was willing to take any other necessary steps toward compliance."