Kobe Bryant's widow awarded $16m in trial over crash photos

Co-plaintiff who lost wife and daughter awarded $15m in jury decision

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

The nine jurors who returned the unanimous verdict agreed with Vanessa Bryant and her lawyers that police and firefighters taking and sharing photos of the remains of Kobe Bryant and their daughter Gianna, 13, invaded her privacy and brought her emotional distress.

The jury deliberated for 4 and a half hours before reaching the verdict. Ms Bryant wept quietly as it was read out.

The pictures were shared mostly between employees of the LA County sheriff’s and fire departments including by 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 who was serving a deputy.

Ms Bryant tearfully testified during the 11-day trial that news of the photos compounded her 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 popping up,” she testified. “I live in fear of my daughters being on social media and these popping up.”

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

Ms 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.

County lawyer Mira Hashmall said during the trial that the photos were a necessary tool for assessing the situation.

Ms Hashmall acknowledged that they should not have been shared with everyone who saw them.

But she said 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.

Bryant, the former LA Lakers star, five-time NBA champion and member of the Basketball Hall of Fame, was travelling 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.

Updated: August 25, 2022, 7:39 AM
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