By Suoyo Ekubo
Kobe Bryant’s widow was awarded $16m as part of a $31m jury verdict on Wednesday against Los Angeles county after deputies and firefighters shared grisly photos of the NBA star, his 13-year-old daughter and other victims killed in a 2020 helicopter crash.
The nine jurors who returned the unanimous verdict agreed with Vanessa Bryant and her attorneys that Los Angeles deputies and firefighters taking and sharing photos of the crash victims invaded her privacy and brought her emotional distress, even though the photos did not become public.
Bryant’s co-plaintiff, Chris Chester, whose wife and daughter were also among the nine people killed in the crash, was separately awarded $15m.
The pictures were shared mostly between employees of the LA County sheriff’s and fire departments, sometimes in the context of entertainment, including by some employees who were playing video games, and others attending an awards banquet. The images of the crash were also seen by some of the employee’s spouses and in one case by a bartender at a bar where a sheriff’s deputy was drinking.
“I live in fear every day of being on social media and these popping up,” Bryant testified. “I live in fear of my daughters being on social media and these popping up.”
Vanessa Bryant’s lawyer Luis Li told jurors that the close-up photos had no official or investigative purpose and were mere “visual gossip” shared out of a gruesome curiosity.
The county attorney J Mira Hashmall argued during the trial that the photos were a necessary tool for assessing 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 even 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.
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.
The jury deliberated for four and a half hours before reaching the verdict. Vanessa Bryant cried quietly as it was read.
An attorney for the county declined to comment.
The jury reached its verdict on Kobe Bryant Day, which is celebrated in LA on 24 August because it represents his jersey numbers — 8 and 24 — and is the day after his birthday. Bryant would have been 44 this week.
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 26 January 2020. Federal safety officials blamed pilot error for the crash.