Island Express Helicopters' response comes after a relative of pilot Ara Zobayan responded to the same suit

By Lindsay Kimble
May 12, 2020 02:02 PM
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Shortly after a relative of pilot Ara Zobayan responded to the wrongful death lawsuit filed by Vanessa Bryant in February after her husband Kobe Bryant and daughter Gianna Bryant's deaths in a helicopter crash, the company that owned the aircraft has issued their own response.

In their response, obtained by PEOPLE and filed in Los Angeles, Island Express Helicopters argues that Kobe, 41, and Gianna, only 13 at the time of the fatal crash, "had actual knowledge of all of the circumstances, particular dangers, and an appreciation of the risks involved and the magnitude thereof" of flying in the helicopter on Jan. 26.

Attorneys for the company claim that the late father and daughter thus "voluntarily assume the risk of the accident, injury, and damages."

Bryant, 38, filed her wrongful death lawsuit against Island Express Helicopters and claimed that pilot Ara Zobayan, who was piloting the flight at the time of the Calabasas, California, crash and died, "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 mother of four's complaint also argued that Island Express Helicopters "knew or should have known" that Zoboyan had been previously cited by the FAA for violating "the visual flight rules minimums by flying into an area of reduced visibility from weather conditions."

Bryant and her daughters are seeking general, economic, and punitive damages.

In response to the lawsuit, a rep for Island Express Helicopters previously told PEOPLE, "This was a tragic accident. We will have no comment on the pending litigation."

Island Express Helicopters' response also argues that the crash was caused by events "beyond the control of and unrelated to any actions or conduct."

Attorneys for the Bryant family did not immediately respond to PEOPLE's request for comment.

In a May 8 filing, a relative of late pilot Zobayan, Berge Zobayan argued that the passengers are to blame for the fatal incident.

"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 states.

According to L.A.-based trial lawyer Tom Lallas, the response is a standard part of trial preparation in a wrongful death case like this and the response was filed in "an abundance of caution" by the lawyers representing Berge 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, managing partner of Levy, Small & Lallas, tells 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."

Passengers on the flight included Kobe, 41, and Gianna, 13, as well as John Altobelli, 56, Keri Altobelli, 46, Alyssa Altobelli, 14, Sarah Chester, 45, Payton Chester, 13, and Christina Mauser, 38.

Bryant and the group were on their way to a youth basketball game in Thousand Oaks.

During a press conference days after the crash,  Jennifer Homendy with The National Transportation Safety Board said the helicopter was not equipped with a terrain awareness and warning system (TAWS) — something she believes could have helped pilot Zobayan — a system aimed at preventing unintentional impacts with the ground.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB)'s report on the crash found no evidence of engine failure or mechanical issues. An investigation is ongoing.