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International News: Jury awards Vanessa Bryant $16 million over crash photos taken of Kobe Bryant, daughter Gianna

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Posted: Thursday, August 25, 2022. 9:39 am CST.

By Aaron Humes: On the city of Los Angeles’ Kobe Bryant Day – the day after his 44th birthday and in commemoration of his jersey numbers 8 and 24 – a federal jury found Wednesday that Los Angeles County must pay Kobe Bryant’s widow, Vanessa, $16 million for emotional distress caused by deputies and firefighters sharing photos of the bodies of the NBA star and his daughter taken at the site of the 2020 helicopter crash that killed them, according to ESPN and the Associated Press.

Neither side spoke to the press after the unanimous verdict was returned following four and a half hours of deliberation. The nine jurors agreed with Vanessa Bryant and her attorneys that the photos of the remains of Kobe Bryant and their 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, invaded her privacy and brought her emotional distress. Vanessa Bryant cried quietly as it was read.

The pictures were shared mostly among employees of the L.A. County sheriff’s and fire departments, including by some who were playing video games and attending an awards banquet. They also were seen by some of their spouses and in one case by a bartender at a bar where a deputy was drinking.

Vanessa 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, stating that she “lives in fear every day” of seeing the photos on social media herself, or having her remaining daughters see them.

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

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. Lead counsel 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 emphasized that the photos had never appeared publicly and had never 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, Gianna and seven others were travelling 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.

 

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