Vanessa Bryant awarded US$16M in trial over crash photos


Kobe Bryant’s widow was awarded $16 million in a $31 million jury verdict against Los Angeles County on Wednesday because state lawmakers and firefighters leaked grisly photos of the NBA star, his 13-year-old daughter and others victims killed in a 2020 helicopter crash.

The nine jurors agreed with Vanessa Bryant and her attorneys that the photos invaded their privacy and caused emotional distress. She cried softly when it was read.

The jury deliberated 4 1/2 hours before reaching the verdict on Kobe Bryant Day, which is celebrated in LA on August 24 because it represents his jersey numbers – 8 and 24 – and is the day after his birthday. On Tuesday he would have been 44 years old.

Following the verdict, Vanessa Bryant posted a photo of herself with her husband and daughter on Instagram.

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

A county attorney declined to comment on the verdict outside of the courtroom.

The images were shared primarily between employees of the LA County Sheriff and Fire Department, including some playing video games and attending an awards banquet. They were also seen by some of their spouses and, on one occasion, by a bartender at a bar where a deputy was drinking.

Vanessa Bryant tearfully testified during the 11-day trial that news of the photos a month after the loss of her husband and daughter increased her still raw grief and that she still has panic attacks thinking about the loss of her might still be out there.

“I live in fear every day of being on social media and this coming up,” she testified. “I live in fear that my daughters will be on social media and this will show up.”

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

“We are grateful for a jury and judge that gave us a fair trial,” said Chester’s attorney, Jerry Jackson.

Vanessa Bryant’s attorneys did not give the jury a dollar amount they believed her client deserved, but Chester’s attorney gave them suggested guidelines that would have meant tens of millions to any plaintiff.

Vanessa Bryant and her attorney declined to comment outside of court on Wednesday. Her face was still in tears as she walked past television cameras and dozens of reporters and got into an SUV.

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

District Attorney J. Mira Hashmall argued during the trial that the photos were a necessary tool in assessing the situation.

She acknowledged that they shouldn’t be shared with everyone who saw them. However, she stressed that the photos were never made public and were not even seen by the plaintiffs. She said it meant Sheriff Alex Villanueva and other officers acted decisively and effectively in ordering the photos’ owners to delete them.

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

Federal safety officials blamed pilot error for the crash.

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