Vanessa Bryant Awarded $16 Million in Suit Over Sharing of Kobe Photos
Kobe Bryant’s widow was awarded $16 million as part of a $31 million jury verdict on Wednesday against Los Angeles County for deputies and firefighters sharing grisly photos of the NBA star, his 13-year-old daughter and other victims killed in a 2020 helicopter crash.
The verdict among the nine jurors was unanimous and they agreed with Vanessa Bryant and her attorneys that the taking and sharing of 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.
Vanessa Bryant testified that news of the photos compounded her grief a month after losing her husband and daughter, and that she still had 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,” 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 were mere “visual gossip” shared out of a gruesome curiosity and had no official or investigative purpose.
While acknowledging that the photos should not have been shared with everyone who saw them, county attorney J Mira Hashmall argued that they were a necessary tool for assessing the situation. She emphasized that the photos had never appeared in public 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.
After deliberating for four and a half hours, the jury reached their verdict and Vanessa Bryant cried quietly as it was read out.
Kobe Bryant died with eight others on 26 January 2020 on the way to a youth basketball game when the helicopter they were in crashed into hills in Calabasas, west of Los Angeles. Federal safety officials blamed pilot error for the crash.
/Stewart Sports news editor