Vanessa Bryant wins lawsuit against L.A. County over shared helicopter crash photos; awarded $16 million
(KTLA) – A federal jury on Wednesday awarded Kobe Bryant’s widow, Vanessa Bryant, and another plaintiff $31 million in combined damages stemming from graphic photos taken and shared from the scene of the 2020 crash that killed the Los Angeles Lakers star, his daughter, and seven other people.
The nine jurors who returned the unanimous verdict agreed with Vanessa Bryant and her attorneys that deputies and firefighters taking and sharing photos of the remains of Kobe Bryant and their 13-year-old daughter Gianna invaded her privacy and brought her emotional distress.
“January 26th, 2020, was the worst day of Vanessa Bryant’s life. The county made it much worse,” Vanessa Bryant’s attorney Luis Li told jurors in his opening statement earlier this month. “They poured salt in an open wound and rubbed it in.”
The jury deliberated for 4 1/2 hours before reaching the verdict. Vanessa Bryant cried quietly as it was read.
Los Angeles County already agreed to pay $2.5 million to settle a similar case brought by two families whose relatives were killed in the crash.
Vanessa Bryant and Chris Chester, whose wife, Sara, and daughter Payton also died, declined to settle. Bryant will receive $16 million while Chester was awarded $15 million.
On Friday, Bryant tearfully testified that news of the photos compounded her still-raw grief a month after losing her husband and daughter, and that she still has panic attacks at the thought that they might still be out there.
“I live in fear every day of being on social media and these popping up,” she told jurors. “I live in fear of my daughters being on social media and these popping up.”
Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, and other parents and players were flying to a girl’s basketball tournament when their chartered helicopter crashed in the Calabasas hills on January 26th, 2020.
Federal safety officials blamed pilot error.
During the trial, Li played jurors security video of an off-duty sheriff’s deputy drinking at a bar showing the photos to the bartender, who shakes his head in dismay. The lawyer then showed an image of the men laughing together later.
Li described firefighters looking at the phone photos two weeks later at an awards banquet, and showed the jury an animated chart documenting their spread to nearly 30 people.
An attorney for the county defended the taking of the photos as an essential tool for first responders seeking to share information when they thought they might still save lives at the chaotic, dangerous, and hard-to-reach crash scene.
It was not immediately known if L.A. County would appeal the verdict.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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