It recently made the news that Vanessa Bryant, the widow of Kobe Bryant, has filed a lawsuit against the company that operated the helicopter that Kobe Bryant, his daughter, and seven others were killed in on January 26, 2020.

The Crash

Kobe Bryant had been known to take helicopters as opposed to driving due to Los Angeles traffic. On this particular day, Kobe was taking the helicopter to his daughter’s game with a few of her teammates, their parents, and coaches. The crash is still under investigation but reports suggest it happened as a result of pilot error while flying in heavy fog. In the midst of it all, most were wondering why the pilot, Ara Zobayan, chose to fly in those conditions.

According to CNN the fog was so dense that the LAPD had decided to ground its helicopters. So, why was Ara Zobayan flying? According to reports, the pilot received Special Visual Flight Rules (SVFR) clearance. SVFR clearance allows a pilot to fly in weather conditions worse than those allowed for regular visual flight rules. The investigation is continuing in efforts to find what mistakes were made that led to nine people losing their lives.

Why Bring a Lawsuit?

There is a conventional wisdom that people make claims or file lawsuits because they’re greedy for money. In our experience, nothing could be further from the truth. Aside from medical bills & lost time at work, people with serious injuries often face a lifetime’s worth of medical challenges. A settlement compensating someone for injuries caused by another’s negligence is their one opportunity to try and help them work through the physical and financial challenges that come with being seriously hurt.

But then you have people like the Bryants. Considering Kobe’s career in the NBA, his family is almost certainly not in need of money in the way that others who have not been so successful are. It’s hard to fathom that she sees this case as a get-rich-quick scheme because, frankly, she’s already there. If I had to guess, she is most likely making this claim to make a difference.

Unsafe Toys

There is a long history of tort cases causing individual businesses, and even whole industries, to make changes to promote consumer safety. For example, in 2005 a 2-year-old boy in Virginia died after eating small magnets that had fallen out of a broken Magnetix toy. His parents thought he had a stomach bug, when he actually had a string of magnets and blocking his intestine, leading to his death. They resorted to the civil justice system after nothing was being done by the manufacturer and after more kids got hurt in similar incidents. The result? Changes being made by the manufacturer and the Consumer Product Safety Commission to implement new safety standard tests before toys with magnets can be put on the shelves.

Defective Tires

Similarly, in the late 90s and early 00s, there was a rash of defective Firestone tires on Ford Explorers that failed while driving, killing hundreds and seriously injuring who knows how many more. There was a recall, but it was civil litigation that revealed that Ford knew about the tire issue that could lead to rollover accidents but that Ford tried to hide that evidence. If not for the civil action, it’s possible that nothing would ever have been done to hold Ford to its responsibility for selling a safe product and, importantly, to get an unsafe product off of shelves when it found out about a major safety issue.

The history of tort law is full of examples like these where individuals made a claim or filed a lawsuit and fought against giant corporations to make changes to safety. There is a chance that Mrs. Bryant may not win this case, but even with a loss it could inspire a change in policy. Helicopter pilots may think twice before asking to fly in dangerous weather conditions and SVFR clearance may tend to err on the side of caution as opposed to letting experienced pilots test their limits.

A major principle of tort law is to try and put people back in the position they were before their injury. This is generally a fiction though. There’s no time machine available to go back and tell a pilot not to fly in conditions or to take a drunk driver’s keys. Sometimes, the best Plaintiff’s can hope for is that a claim or a lawsuit causes enough financial trouble for a defendant (or raises the possibility of financial trouble for an industry) that better safety practices are put into place to protect others from suffering the same kinds of harm that the plaintiff has.

Be safe out there.

I’m sure you have heard of those mystical personal injury law suits where the plaintiff supposedly recovered millions of dollars for a stubbed toe. Well, this example is obviously hypothetical, but you get my point. The majority of the public feels that civil plaintiffs recover millions all the time for the slightest of injuries. In fact, let’s be honest, the public perception is really that when a plaintiff has a personal injury claim, they are looking to “hit it rich.”

In reality though, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Most victims of personal injury really just want their lives to return to normal…or at least as close to normal as possible. In fact, even if an injured party wanted to “hit it rich” from a personal injury claim, in many instances, the law doesn’t allow them to do so.

A personal injury case (motor vehicle collision case, medical malpractice case, products liability case, etc.) is what the legal world refers to as a “tort claim.” A tort lawsuit is a suit where one person (“the plaintiff”) sues another (“the defendant”) for damages that the defendant caused to the plaintiff when the defendant committed an act of harm recognized by our civil laws (e.g. negligence). What do “damages” mean? Damages are compensation for the harms that were caused by the wrongful act.  This compensation is strictly for the damages sustained…no more…and no less. Specifically, tort law intends for the damages a plaintiff recovers to compensate them in a manner so to place them in the same position they would have been had they never suffered the injury in the first place. Obviously, a jury award cannot physically fix their bodies or award the plaintiff a time machine to travel back to a time when they were not injured.  What the jury award does do is provide a plaintiff with an amount of money to hopefully help them live with their injuries in a more “normal fashion.”

To provide guidance to a jury, the law specifies what losses should be included in the damage compensation awarded. Those include:

  • The reasonable value of necessary medical care, treatment, and services (past and future);
  • Loss of wages (past and future);
  • The value of a loss of earning capacity;
  • The value of loss of enjoyment of life the Plaintiff has suffered;
  • The value of the physical and emotional pain and suffering the Plaintiff has suffered; and
  • The value of disfigurement and / or deformity resulting from the injuries the Plaintiff has suffered.

All of the damage considerations can then be affected by the extent of the injuries; whether the injuries are temporary or permanent; the length of life a plaintiff would have to live with the injuries; and the effects of inflation or depreciation of the damages awarded.

In cases of death, dismemberment or permanent debilitating injury, the amount awarded for damages can rise to an extremely high number. But, given the fact that a compensation award is intended to bring the plaintiff back to the same position she would have been had she never suffered an injury in the first place, it’s only fair.

With all of that considered, did you know that Indiana law places a cap on the damages a plaintiff can recover in certain types of cases? If a Plaintiff is injured, she should be allowed to recover all of their damages, no matter how much is at stake, right? Similarly, if a Plaintiff is injured, a Plaintiff should be allowed recover all of their damages, no matter what geographic location she resides in, right? Finally, if a Plaintiff is injured, she should recover all of their damages, no matter how they were injured, right? I mean, isn’t that what I just spent the first few paragraphs explaining? Well, regretfully, I was correct in my theoretical explanation above. But according to Indiana lawmakers, practice should be different than theory. In fact, over the last 40 years the Indiana Legislature has placed numerous monetary caps on the damages a Plaintiff can recover.

For instance, if a Plaintiff suffers an injury due to medical malpractice, a Plaintiff can only recover a maximum of $1.25 million…no matter how much a jury would actually award. I.C. 34-18-14. Or, if an unmarried adult with no dependents is killed via an act of negligence, the maximum amount their estate can recover is $300,000.00 plus attorney fees. I.C. 34-23-1.

These caps may seem like a lot of money and may seem fair to some; however, keep in mind that what these caps really stand for: the state lawmakers placing a maximum value on individual’s lives and state lawmakers categorizing certain individuals based on the type of negligence involved.

Statutory caps on damages remain a hot topic among the attorneys who are confronted with them on a consistent basis. Regretfully, all too often it also affects injured parties.

Ladendorf Law is constantly keeping up to date on the legal ramifications and changes in statutory damage caps and fighting hard for our clients as we navigate through the complicated statutes that continuously “stack the deck” against victims of personal injury. If you or your loved ones have been injured by the negligence of another, contact Ladendorf Law to allow us to answer your questions concerning these statutes and more as well as conduct a free case evaluation.