Jury awards Vanessa Bryant $16 million in lawsuit over Kobe Bryant crash site photos

A federal jury on Wednesday found that Los Angeles County must pay Kobe Bryant’s widow $16 million for photos of the NBA star’s body at the scene of the helicopter crash in 2020 the site that killed him.

The nine jurors who returned the unanimous verdict agreed with Vanessa Bryant and her lawyers 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.

The jury deliberated for 4 1/2 hours before reaching the verdict. Vanessa Bryant wept silently as it was read.

The photos were mostly shared between LA County Sheriff’s and fire department employees, including some who were playing video games and attending an awards banquet. They were also seen by some of their spouses and in one case by a bartender at a bar where a deputy was drinking.

Vanessa Bryant arrives at the US Federal Courthouse.
Vanessa Bryant leaves Federal Court in downtown Los Angeles after testifying in the trial over graphic images taken by first responders at the scene of the helicopter crash that killed her husband, basketball legend Kobe Bryant, their teenage daughter and seven others. 19 August 2022.

(Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times/Getty Images)

Vanessa Bryant tearfully testified during the 11-day trial that news of the photos added to 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 coming up,” she testified. “I live in fear that my daughters will be on social media and that these will show up.”

Her co-plaintiff Chris Chester, whose wife and daughter were also among the nine killed in the crash, was awarded $15 million.

Vanessa Bryant’s attorneys did not give jurors a dollar amount they thought their client deserved, but Chester’s attorney gave them suggested guidelines that would have meant tens of millions for each plaintiff.

A pedestrian adjusts his face mask as he walks past a mural of late Los Angeles Lakers basketball star Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna by artist @Sloe_Motions in Los Angeles, California on January 25, 2021, one day before the one-year anniversary of the tragic helicopter crash that killed nine people, including Bryant and his daughter.

FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images

Vanessa Bryant’s lawyer Luis Li told jurors that the close-ups had no official or investigative purpose and were just “visual gossip” shared out of horrified curiosity.

County Attorney J. Mira Hashmall argued during the trial that the photos were a necessary tool to assess the situation.

She acknowledged that they should not have been shared with everyone who saw them. But she stressed that the images had never appeared in public, and had never even been seen by the plaintiffs. She said that meant Sheriff Alex Villanueva and other officials had taken decisive and effective action when they ordered those who had the images to delete them.

Kobe Bryant, the former Lakers star, five-time NBA champion and member of the Basketball Hall of Fame, was traveling with Gianna and seven others to a youth basketball game when the helicopter they were aboard crashed into hills in Calabasas west of Los Angeles on January 26, 2020.

Federal safety officials blamed pilot error for the crash.

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