Vanessa Bryant Awarded $16 Million For L.A. County Misconduct With Accident Photos
A federal jury sided with Vanessa Bryant against Los Angeles County Wednesday, awarding Bryant $16 million in damages for the county’s handling of the deaths of her husband, Kobe Bryant, and 13-year-old daughter, Gigi Bryant. Bryant sued the county for recklessly distributing photos of her husband and daughter’s remains following a helicopter crash on Jan. 26, 2020.
The jury also awarded co-plaintiff Chris Chester, who lost his wife and daughter in the crash, an additional $15 million. The trial lasted 11 days, completing a lawsuit first filed by Bryant and Chester in November 2021.
Lawyers representing the pair argued that they deserved financial accountability from the county after eight sheriff’s deputies at the scene took photos of the victims and sent them to friends and colleagues. One deputy privately referred to the victims as resembling “piles of meat.”
In an emotional testimony, Vanessa Bryant described the impact of the deputies’ actions following the death of her husband and daughter.
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“I live in fear every day of being on social media and these popping up,” Bryant said. “I live in fear of my daughters being on social media and these popping up.”
Meanwhile, the county argued that the pictures were never published online and that there was no law at the time forbidding officers from taking private photos at the scene of an accident.
This defense was regularly undercut by circumstances surrounding the incident, however.
After discovering his deputies’ actions, sheriff Alex Villanueva made them delete all the photos they took and deemed their actions “inexcusable” in an interview with NBC News.
Villanueva later enacted a policy banning private photos at scenes of accidents or crimes, and the state senate made his policy law in December 2020.
Due to law enforcement’s response to the event, as well as Bryant and Chester’s claims of intense emotional distress, the jury chose to reward the plaintiffs with more than $30 million combined after a four-and-a-half hour deliberation.
Bryant and her lawyer declined to comment after the verdict was delivered, but Bryant later posted on Instagram calling for justice for her family. Chester’s lawyer merely expressed gratitude for a fair trial after the verdict.
The jury’s deliberation and verdict coincidentally occurred on August 24, recognized by many as Kobe Bryant Day in Los Angeles as a combination of his two numbers, 8 and 24. In addition to an outpouring of support for the Bryant family on social media, there were also many public demonstrations to honor the late NBA star and other victims.
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