The tragic helicopter accident of January 26, 2020 has captured the world’s attention. The public’s grief was evident: purple and gold was the temporary color of multiple Los Angeles monuments like LAX and the U.S. Bank Tower. But in addition to the sports world losing one of its most ferocious competitors, the private worlds of the families of those that perished have also been shattered. In addition to the most well-known passengers—Kobe Bryant and his daughter, Gianna—there were 7 others onboard: John, Keri, and Alyssa Altobelli, survived by an adult son and a minor daughter; Christina Mausner, survived by a husband and three minor children; Sarah Chester and her daughter, Payton, survived by two minor sons; and the pilot, Ara Zobayan, survived by an adult brother and both parents.
It seems impossible to even try to place a value on the lives of these people; among other things they were parents, children, siblings, friends, and coaches. But that is what has already begun to happen as, on the day of the public memoriam held at Staples Center, Vanessa Bryant filed the first of what will likely be many “wrongful death” lawsuits.
To successfully prove a wrongful death claim, the families will need to show that it is more likely than not that negligence, or a breach of a duty of care, both (1) occurred and (2) was a substantial factor in causing the crash.
As the first lawsuits are filed, the first question to ask is: Who is entitled to make such a claim? In California, this list is established by law (Code of Civil Procedure § 377.60):
- A surviving spouse or registered domestic partner;
- Children (or grandchildren if children are deceased);
- Dependent step-children and other dependent minors in particular circumstances; and/or
- Parents, if dependent.
If there is no spouse or children, the claims will be governed by the same rules as if there was no will in effect.
There is no doubt that the world will be watching what will happen in this case. Our hearts go out to the families affected by this tragedy.