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Vanessa Bryant Wins Suit Over Helicopter Crash Photos

Sports

Vanessa Bryant | Image by Getty Images

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A Los Angeles jury unanimously sided with Kobe Bryant’s widow Vanessa on Thursday, awarding her $16 million as part of a $31 million verdict against Los Angeles County. The suit stemmed from first responders’ sharing of grisly photos of the NBA star, his and Vanessa’s daughter, and other victims killed in a January 2020 helicopter crash.

Vanessa Bryant’s co-plaintiff, Christopher Chester, whose wife and daughter were among the nine people killed in the crash, was awarded $15 million.

The widowed pair sued Los Angeles County, claiming that “close-up photos” were shared on multiple devices among members of the sheriff’s department, fire department, and the public.

Bryant’s attorney, Luis Li, said the pictures were taken at the helicopter crash scene by a fire captain and deputy and were “visual gossip” viewed “for a laugh,” with no official purpose.

Witnesses during the trial included a deputy who said he showed images from the scene to two people at a bar, another deputy who said he shared photos while playing a video game, and a fire official who showed the images to other personnel during an awards ceremony cocktail hour.

“They were shared by deputies playing video games,” Li said. “They were shared repeatedly with people who had absolutely no reason to receive them.”

Bryant and Chester testified to living in fear that the photos may surface to the public, despite the county’s claim that the pictures had been destroyed.

The county’s attorney, J. Mira Hashmall, argued that the pictures were essential for first responders who thought that some lives could have been saved at the crash scene.

The jury deliberated for four and a half hours before reaching the unanimous verdict that the photos caused Bryant and Chester emotional distress and violated their privacy.

Bryant cried quietly as the verdict was read, then posted a photo on Instagram of herself with her husband and daughter Gianna after the verdict.

“All for you!” the caption read. “I love you! JUSTICE for Kobe and Gigi!”

Bryant’s attorneys did not proffer a desired dollar amount to jurors, but Chester’s attorney gave them suggested guidelines of tens of millions for each plaintiff.

Hashmall, who led the counsel for LA County, released a statement shortly after the verdict.

“While we disagree with the jury’s findings as to the County’s liability, we believe the monetary award shows that jurors didn’t believe the evidence supported the Plaintiffs’ request of $75 million for emotional distress,” Hashmall said. “We will be discussing next steps with our client. Meanwhile, we hope the Bryant and Chester families continue to heal from their tragic loss.”

In September 2020, California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill called the “Kobe Bryant Act” that made it illegal for first responders to share photos of a dead person at a crime scene “for any purpose other than an official law enforcement.” The misdemeanor crime is punishable by up to $1,000 per violation.

Coincidentally, the verdict was announced on “Kobe Bryant Day,” which is commemorated in Los Angeles on August 24 because it represents his jersey numbers — 8 and 24 — and is the day after his birthday. Tuesday would have been Kobe Bryant’s 44th birthday.

Bryant will donate her proceeds from the ruling to her nonprofit dedicated to Kobe and Gianna, the Mamba and Mambacita Foundation, to “shine a light” on their legacy, attorney Li said in a statement.

The nonprofit foundation offers sports education to athletes for whom it may be less accessible. Kobe Bryant founded the nonprofit in 2016 as the Mamba Sports Foundation, a nod to his nickname, “the Black Mamba.”

The charity was renamed to additionally honor 13-year-old Gianna after she died alongside her father in the January 26, 2020, crash.

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