BY ROSS TODD
“What we hope and what we’ve seen over the years, is that by helping our clients achieve civil justice and punish wrongdoers, it ensures that the tragedy that they have experienced does not happen to others in the future,” said Andrew Robb, who left Boies Schiller Flexner in February 2020 to join Robb & Robb, the firm founded by his parents.
It was almost two years ago now on January 26, 2020, that NBA legend Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna and seven others died in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California. While a lawsuit over photographs sheriff’s deputies took after the crash brought by Bryant’s widow and Gianna’s mother, Vanessa Bryant, remains pending, her claims against the charter company that operated the helicopter settled on confidential terms in a deal that was finalized late last year.
Lawyers at Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati and Munger, Tolles & Olson have been taking the lead in the suit involving the crash scene photos. But in the litigation tied to the crash itself, Bryant’s team was led by Robb & Robb, a boutique specializing in aviation litigation based in Kansas City, Missouri, led by husband-and-wife team Gary and Anita Robb.
In a Zoom interview last week, The Litigation Daily asked Anita Robb how a boutique based in the Midwest was brought in to handle what is likely the highest-profile helicopter crash case ever to be litigated in the U.S. Her answer started back at the firm’s founding. She and Gary were practicing primarily product liability defense work at large firms in Chicago when they set up their own plaintiff-side shop in 1984, at first doing products cases of all kinds, but eventually finding a niche in aviation. “It wasn’t our plan by design,” she said. “We got a few [cases] and then those turned out and then we got a few more and then we got a few more and then we started getting verdicts and here we are doing aviation work,” she said.
Those results include helicopter crash verdicts of $350 million and $70 million, two of the highest ever in U.S. history. And in a case previously covered by the Litigation Daily, the firm obtained what appears to be the largest pre-trial personal injury settlement in the U.S. – $100 million for a flight nurse in Colorado who suffered burns over 90% of his body in a 2015 crash involving a helicopter that did not have a crash-resistant fuel system. On top of those results, Gary Robb literally wrote the book on helicopter crash litigation.
Anita Robb says that it was a privilege to represent the Bryant family, as it is to represent all the firm’s clients, individuals who are often dealt with sudden, unexpected tragedy. “Kobe Bryant, above all else in his life, valued his family, and we relate to that very, very deeply not only because of who he was, but because of who we are as a law firm,” she said.
On that point, the Bryant litigation has extra significance for the firm since it is one of the first matters that Andrew Robb, the Robbs’ son, and Brittany Sanders Robb, their daughter-in-law, worked on after joining the firm in February 2020 after stints as associates in New York at Boies Schiller Flexner and Debevoise & Plimpton, respectively.
“After almost two years, we joke that we can’t imagine how we functioned for 36 years without them,” says Anita Robb of Andrew and Brittany.
Andrew, for his part, says that he learned a lot working on commercial cases for corporate clients, but that he felt “a call” to handle the sort of work his parents were doing at their firm.
“When clients come to us after these sudden tragic events they are devastated, confused and angry and beat down. And that’s very different in many ways from the kind of clients that a lot of Big Law attorneys represent,” Andrew Robb said. “When clients come to us after these sudden, tragic events, it’s a great burden and great responsibility that we take very seriously to help our clients navigate what is in many cases the single greatest tragedy of their lives.”
“What we hope and what we’ve seen over the years, is that by helping our clients achieve civil justice and punish wrongdoers, it ensures that the tragedy that they have experienced does not happen to others in the future,” he said. “We can help our clients begin to achieve peace and start to move forward once again.”