25 August 2022

Jury finds in favour of Kobe Bryant’s widow in trial over crash photos

25 August 2022

A federal jury has found that Los Angeles County must pay Kobe Bryant’s widow 16 million dollars (£13.6 million) for emotional distress caused by emergency service workers taking and sharing pictures of the NBA star’s body.

Bryant was travelling with 13-year-old daughter 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.

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

The jury deliberated for four-and-a-half 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. He would have turned 44 on Tuesday.

I live in fear every day of being on social media and these popping up

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

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

An attorney for the county declined to comment on the verdict outside the courtroom.

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 at a bar where a deputy was drinking.

Mrs Bryant tearfully testified during the 11-day trial that news of the photos compounded her still-raw 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 15 million dollars (£12.75 million).

Mrs Bryant leaves the courthouse with her daughter, Natalia, left, and soccer player Sydney Leroux (AP Photo/Jae C Hong) (AP)

“We’re grateful for a jury and a judge who gave us a fair trial,” said Mr Chester’s lawyer Jerry Jackson.

Mrs Bryant’s attorneys did not give jurors a dollar amount they thought their client deserved, but Mr Chester’s attorney gave them suggested guidelines that would have meant tens of millions for each plaintiff.

Mrs Bryant and her attorney declined comment outside court on Wednesday. Her face was still streaked with tears as she walked past TV cameras and dozens of reporters and climbed into an SUV.

Her 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 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 emphasised 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.

Federal safety officials blamed pilot error for the crash.

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