Vanessa Bryant Files Wrongful Death Lawsuit

Shortly before Kobe and Gianna Bryant's memorial service on Feb. 24, 2020, Vanessa Bryant filed a 72-page lawsuit against Island Express Helicopters, the company that owned the helicopter the father and daughter flew in on Jan. 26, 2020, reported TMZ. The helicopter — a Sikorsky S-76B — crashed into a hillside in Calabasas, Calif. amid foggy conditions, killing Kobe, Gianna, and seven others, including pilot Ara George Zobayan. The suit references Zobayan multiple times for reasons we'll get to in a moment.

Vanessa hasn't spoken out about Island Express Helicopters or Zobayan, but she has publicly shared her grief with the world. At the "Celebration of Life" for Kobe and Gianna, the mom-of-four delivered heartfelt speeches to honor her husband and daughter. "We love and miss you, Boo-Boo and Gigi," she said. "May you both rest in peace and have fun in heaven until we meet again one day. We love you both and miss you forever and always, Mommy."

Here's everything we know about her wrongful death lawsuit.

Vanessa Bryant accused the helicopter pilot of negligence

Vanessa Bryant filed a lawsuit against Island Express Helicopters and "Doe 1," a legal representative or successor for pilot Ara George Zobayan. It's unclear who "Doe 1" is, but it's common for this term to be used when a name can't be determined or is being withheld for legal reasons. In the suit, the pilot is accused of failing to "properly monitor and assess the weather prior to takeoff," failing to "obtain proper weather data prior" to the flight, failing to "abort the flight when he knew of the cloudy conditions," and "improperly" flying the "helicopter into instrument flight rules (IFR) conditions," according to BuzzFeed. The suit also said Zobayan was allegedly "disciplined in 2015 for violating the visual flight rule minimums by flying into an airspace of reduced visibility," per TMZ.

As for Island Express Helicopters, the suit argues the helicopter should not have been allowed to fly in the first place, given the poor weather conditions. The legal filing alleges the chopper "was not safe," per TMZ. The company's helicopters were reportedly only certified for visual flight rules (VFR). Last but not least, the lawsuit admonished the business for not equipping its choppers with a terrain avoidance warning system.

Island Express Helicopters responded to Vanessa Bryant's lawsuit

Island Express Helicopters issued a statement in response to Vanessa Bryant's wrongful death lawsuit. Per TMZ, the statement said: "This was a tragic accident. We will have no comment on the pending lawsuit." 

The company previously noted that it was "deeply saddened" by the tragedy. "Our top priority is providing assistance to the families of the passengers and the pilot," the business said on its website shortly after the crash. "We hope that you will respect their privacy at this extremely difficult time." Island Express Helicopters also made it a point to note that pilot Ara George Zobayan had been working for the company for "over 10 years" and had clocked "over 8,000 flight hours."

In the wake of the horrific crash, the company also announced that "all services (regular and charter) were immediately suspended until further notice." According to Island Express Helicopters, "The shock of the accident affected all staff, and management decided that service would be suspended until such time as it was deemed appropriate for staff and customers."

In light of the lawsuit, it's unclear how the company will fare going forward. The legal filing includes 28 complaints in total against Island Express Helicopters and Zobayan, and it seeks punitive damages as well as "damages for loss of love, affection, care, society, service, comfort, support, right to support, companionship, solace or moral support and expectations of future support and counseling," per TMZ. Additionally, Vanessa is reportedly seeking "money for loss of financial support and for burial and funeral expenses."

The cause of the fatal crash is still under investigation

Investigators are still trying to piece together why Kobe Bryant's helicopter crashed on Jan. 26, 2020. However, engine failure has been ruled out as a possible cause. The National Transportation Safety Board noted in early February 2020, per CNN: "Viewable sections of the engines showed no evidence of an uncontained or catastrophic internal failure." 

CNN transportation expert Peter Goelz and former managing director of the NTSB talked about the investigation's initial findings. "It really just reinforces the tragic nature of this crash. It was a perfectly good helicopter. It was well-equipped. And, unfortunately, it was flying in marginal weather." Goelz added, "And apparently the pilot got up into the clouds, realized that he was in a more difficult situation than he had planned on and tried to escape. Or simply lost situational awareness."

If and when the cause of the crash is determined, that information could play a role in Vanessa Bryant's ongoing wrongful death lawsuit. Until then, loved ones and fans will continue to grapple with the biggest unanswered questions about the Kobe Bryant helicopter crash.