The NTSB preliminary ruling in the fatal 2020 helicopter crash that killed basketball star Kobe Bryant as well as his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, two of her basketball teammates, and their parents showed that the pilot’s decision to fly into zero-visibility weather conditions caused the crash. Even though the cause seems clear-cut, Slack Davis Sanger Dallas Managing Partner shared with Law360 about why a settlement may still be a long way off for relatives of the crash victims.
Ladd Sanger, a licensed airline transport pilot and Slack Davis Sanger LLP’s Dallas managing partner, said now that the NTSB investigation has concluded, the parties are free to examine the wreckage and other evidence and launch their own investigations, which could prompt other theories of liability to emerge.
Sanger said while the evidence demonstrates that the pilot erred by flying into the clouds, there is a question of whether his flight instruments, known as avionics, were properly set up and functioning.
“If the pilot was relying on his avionics in the clouds and for whatever reason they were not working and exacerbated his spatial disorientation, that is something to look at,” he said. “It’s easy to lay blame at the feet of a pilot. In some cases it’s warranted, but in some cases there are other factors that could’ve prevented the bad outcome or reduced the likelihood of pilot error from an aviation standpoint.”
Sanger said it’s an “open question” as to whether other parties will be added to the case, such as the helicopter’s manufacturer, Sikorsky.
“I’ve been involved in a lot of cases where additional theories of liability against other defendants have been developed, so that’s yet to come,” he said. “I wouldn’t say that now that the NTSB report is out that the case is over. One thing I tell my clients is that the NTSB report is just one data point. In many instances, we do our own investigation and find and develop our own theories of liability that may not be obvious from the NTSB report.”
In addition, the attorneys representing all the parties in the case are “very skilled aviation litigators,” Sanger said, so it’s possible other theories of liability could take shape out of their due diligence processes.
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