Los Angeles County was ordered to pay Kobe Bryant’s widow, Vanessa, $16 million after a jury ruled that deputies and firefighters had shared grisly photos of the NBA star; their 13-year-old daughter, Gianna; and other victims killed in a 2020 helicopter crash.
The nine jurors unanimously agreed with Vanessa Bryant and her attorneys that the photos invaded her privacy and caused emotional distress. As the verdict was read, she quietly cried.
The jury deliberated for 4 1/2 hours before reaching a verdict on Kobe Bryant day. This day is commemorated in the city of L.A. on August 24th because it represents his jersey numbers (8 and 24). It is also the day after his birthday. Kobe Bryant’s birthday would have been on Tuesday, which was July 24th.
The county attorney declined to comment on the verdict outside the courtroom.
Some employees of the L.A. County sheriff’s and fire departments shared pictures of the shooting. They included people who were playing video games and attending an awards banquet. Some of their spouses saw the pictures, too. One deputy even showed a picture to a bartender at a bar he was at.
Vanessa Bryant testified during the trial that she was still grieving after her husband and daughter died. The news of the photos made her feel worse and she has panic attacks when she thinks about them.
“I live in fear every day of being on social media and these popping up,” she testified. “I live in fear of my daughters being on social media and these popping up.”
Chris Chester, one of the co-plaintiffs in the case, was awarded $15 million. Chester’s wife and daughter were killed in the crash.
“We’re grateful for a jury and a judge who gave us a fair trial,” Chester’s lawyer Jerry Jackson said.
Vanessa Bryant’s attorneys did not mention a dollar amount that they thought their client deserved, but Chester’s attorney gave jurors guidelines that would have meant tens of millions for each plaintiff.
Vanessa Bryant and her lawyer declined to speak to reporters as they left court on Wednesday. Bryant’s face was still streaked with tears as she walked past TV cameras and dozens of reporters. She then got into an SUV.
Vanessa Bryant’s lawyer Luis Li said that the close-up photos of her husband Kobe Bryant’s death were not taken for any official or investigative purpose, but were instead shared out of a morbid curiosity.
County attorney J. Mira Hashmall argued during the trial that the photos were necessary to assess the situation.
She acknowledged that they should not have been shared with everyone who saw them. But she emphasized that the photos had never appeared publicly and had never been seen by the plaintiffs. She said that meant that Sheriff Alex Villanueva and other officials had taken decisive and effective action when they ordered those who had the photos to delete them.
Kobe Bryant, the former Lakers basketball star, was killed in a helicopter crash on January 26th, 2020. He was traveling with Gianna and seven others to a youth basketball game.
Federal safety officials blamed pilot error for the crash.
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