Vanessa Bryant scored a major legal victory.
A jury ordered Los Angeles County to pay Kobe Bryant’s widow, and another man, Chris Chester, $31 million in damages. The suit was over the graphic photos law enforcement, and firefighters took of the 2020 helicopter crash scene that killed Kobe, his daughter Gianna Bryant, and seven others. Vanessa was awarded $16 million and Chris, $15 million.
The federal trial lasted for 11-days. LA Times reports the jury deliberated for a “few hours,” and agreed with Chris’s attorney that the illicit photos of the deceased bodies “violated their client’s right to privacy and inflicted emotional distress.” Chris also lost two important people in his life in the crash, his wife, Sarah, and daughter, Payton.
Craig Lavoie, Vanessa’s lawyer, told the jury,
“We’re here because of intentional conduct. Intentional conduct by those who were charged with protecting the dignity of Sarah and Payton, and Kobe and Gianna.”
Before the jury reached the verdict, Craig highlighted how insensitive the officers and firefighters were after they took the photos. He said, “they were flashed from a sheriff’s deputy’s phone screen to a bartender in Norwalk. They were shown to firefighters and their spouses during an awards gala at a hotel in Universal City in what amounted, one witness said, to a ‘party trick.'” He also said the photos were “passed from one deputy to another as the pair played video games.”
The defense argued there were “legitimate reasons” for first responders to take the photos. One “reason” was to help determine the size of the crash site and decide what resources were needed. A lawyer representing the county, Mira Hashmall, also argued the photos were never published online, and that the victim’s families didn’t see them.
Nonetheless, that wasn’t enough to get the jury to be on the side of the defense. Kobe, Gianna, John Altobelli, his wife Keri and daughter Alyssa, Christina Mauser, Sarah Chester and daughter Payton Chester, and Ara Zobayan, tragically lost their lives on January 26, 2020. A 2021 investigation discovered that “pilot error” was the most significant reason for the crash. An 86-page report found issues like the pilot made a “poor decision” to fly at “excessive airspeed” with poor visibility.”
Our hearts are forever with the family of all the victims.