Insurer Seeks Removal from Kobe Bryant Crash Lawsuit

OC Helicopter insurer Endurance claims a $10 million policy does not cover rotorcraft.

The insurer of a key defendant in a tsunami of litigation engulfing the January 2020 crash of a Sikorsky S-76B that killed basketball legend Kobe Bryant and eight others filed suit earlier this month, seeking to be removed from the proceedings. Sompo International Holdings unit Endurance Assurance filed the suit in U.S. District Court, claiming the $10 million non-owned policy it issued to OC Helicopters, which booked the flight for Bryant and his party, does not cover helicopters. Island Express Helicopters owned and operated the accident helicopter.

Endurance had been defending OC in the crash lawsuits brought by Bryant’s widow and others subject to “reservation for rights” but now seeks reimbursement for those costs. The defense employed by OC to date has been that it did not have “operational control” of the crash flight. In September, the company issued a formal statement on the crash, saying in part, “we adamantly deny any responsibility for the accident.”

In February, the NTSB found that the probable cause of the crash was “the pilot's decision to continue flight under visual flight rules into instrument meteorological conditions (IMC), which resulted in the pilot’s spatial orientation and loss of control.”

The filing by Endurance is the latest insurance cloud hanging over the crash. As early as February 2020, industry experts charged that the $50 million insurance coverage carried by Island Express Helicopters was inadequate, considering the passenger capacity of the S-76. In response to suits against it, Island Express has filed a cross-claim against the U.S. government charging that the air traffic controllers handling the flight failed to provide adequate service. Earlier this month, U.S. District Judge Fernando Olguin denied the government’s motion to dismiss that claim and ruled it could proceed to discovery. In its final report on the accident, the NTSB found that the actions of the controllers did not contribute to the crash.