The deaths of Kobe Bryant, his daughter, and seven others still seem surreal. While flying to a basketball game at Mamba Sports Academy on January 26, the Sikorsky S-76B crashed into a hillside, killing everyone on board. This week, attorneys for Bryant’s wife, Vanessa, filed a wrongful death lawsuit in Los Angeles County Superior Court against Island Express Holding Corp. and Island Express Helicopters, which operated the helicopter carrying the victims. The complaint alleges that the pilot, who also died, negligently failed to assess the weather and abort the flight, or keep a safe distance from natural obstacles while flying.
As a helicopter pilot in the U.S. Army, flight into terrain was something we were uniquely trained to avoid, as we most often flew nap-of-the-earth missions. Amid the dense fog that was reported in the area, the helicopter should have stayed on the ground. Knowing that the crash was avoidable makes the pain of the families’ loss even more difficult to endure.
From a legal perspective, one complexity in this crash will likely be the coverage of the corporate owner and their risk management decisions that led to these fatalities. Once the National Traffic Safety Board (NTSB) issues its report, other parties, such as Sikorsky, could bear some of the responsibility as well.
How do nine families split $100 million? That amount is likely the extent of the coverage. The person tasked with allocating the payout among the claims has one of the toughest jobs in civil justice.
After an allocation solution is found, navigating what to do with the money can be as hard as getting it in the first place. In crash cases like this, we as settlement planners help the grieving families and their legal teams pick up the pieces and move forward with their lives. We provide trusts for the children, income for the widow, and anything else that may make the future financially comfortable for the families the victims have left behind. It is our hope that no matter the results of this pending litigation, the families’ recovery brings some sort of justice and peace of mind.
A West Point graduate where he served as captain and military aviator, John Bair continues his commitment to our country through his efforts within the settlement planning industry. He has represented families of victims lost in the Flight 3407 crash, offered pro bono services to the families of 9/11 victims and drafted the first consumer protection bill for plaintiffs (H.R. 3699).