A family relative of pilot Ara Zobayan has responded to the wrongful death lawsuit filed by Vanessa Bryant in February.
In the relative’s response, Berge Zobayan – who represents the 50-year-old pilot who tragically passed away in the January 26 helicopter crash along with Kobe Bryant, Gianna Bryant, and six other passengers – argued that the passengers are to blame for the fatal incident, according to documents obtained by PEOPLE that were filed in Los Angeles on May 8.
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“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,” the response stated.
According to LA-based trial lawyer Tom Lallas, this response is a standard part of trial preparation in a wrongful death suit like this and the response was filed in “an abundance of caution” by lawyers representing Zobayan.
“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, a managing partner of Levy, Small & Lallas, told PEOPLE. “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.”
Berge’s response, which listed Bryant’s daughters as plaintiffs and also requested a jury trial, argued, “any injuries or damages to plaintiffs and/or their decedent were directly caused in full or in part by the negligence, fault or wrongful conduct of third parties, whom this answering defendant neither controlled nor had the right to control, and for which this answering defendant bears no responsibility. Said acts or omissions comparatively reduce the percentage of negligence, fault and/or liability, if any of this answering defendant.”
Berge’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,” according to Lallas.
“The first affirmative defense that lawyers always state in an answer is failure to state a claim,” he added. “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.”
Passengers in the tragic helicopter crash that occurred earlier in the year included Kobe, Gianna, John Altobelli, Keri Altobelli, Alyssa Altobelli, Sarah Chester, Payton Chester, and Christina Mauser.
Vanessa Bryant filed her wrongful death lawsuit against Island Express Helicopters, the helicopter company that owned the aircraft, and claimed that Ara Zobayan, who was piloting the flight at the time of the crash and passed away, “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.”
The complaint also argued that the helicopter company “knew or should have known” that the pilot had been previously cited by FAA for violating “the visual flight rules minimums by flying into an area of reduced visibility from weather conditions.”
The Bryant family is seeking general, economic and punitive damages.
The crash victim’s families also followed Vanessa’s lead and filed their own lawsuit against the helicopter company as well.