Jury awards plaintiffs $31M in lawsuit over Kobe Bryant crash photos – CNN

Jury awards plaintiffs $31M in lawsuit over Kobe Bryant crash photos - CNN

Bryant was awarded $16 million in damages and Chris Chester was awarded $15 million.

Immediately after the verdict was read, Bryant hugged her lawyers. As she continued to cry, Bryant then tearfully hugged her daughter Natalia in the front row. She left the courthouse without making a statement.

“While we disagree with the jury’s findings regarding the County’s liability, we believe the monetary award shows that jurors did not believe the evidence supported the plaintiffs’ claim of $75 million for emotional distress,” said county attorney Mira Hashmall, who led the way out. councilor for LA County. “We will discuss next steps with our client. In the meantime, we hope the Bryant and Chester families continue to heal from their tragic loss.”

The federal jury found both the sheriff and Fire Departments lacked proper policies and training that caused the violation of rights. The only plaintiff claim not supported by jurors was in a finding that the county fire department was not responsible for any longstanding widespread practice or custom of taking illegal photographs. The sheriff’s department was found responsible for the same issue.

At issue in the trial were photographs taken by LA County deputies and firefighters that included not only wreckage from the helicopter, but the mangled bodies of those killed including. NBA star Kobe Bryanthis daughter Gianna, Chester’s wife Sarah, his daughter Payton and five others.
Vanessa Bryant testifies that she suffers from panic attacks, anxiety since learning about shared crash scene photos.
The National Transportation Safety Board determined the helicopter pilot pushed the limits of bad weather flight rules before he crashed into a mountainside in Calabasas, California.

Bryant and Chester argued that the photos of their loved ones caused emotional distress and violated their privacy. Everyone testified to living in fear that the photos might surface, despite LA County’s claim, every image was destroyed.

Jurors listened to 11 days of graphic testimony. Witnesses during the trial included a deputy who said he showed graphic images of the scene while at a bar, another deputy who said he shared photos while playing a video game, a deputy who sent dozens of photos to someone he did not know, and a fire official who showed the images to other staff during award ceremony cocktail hour.

In September 2020, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed an invasion of privacy bill called the “Kobe Bryant Act” which makes it illegal for first responders to share photos of a deceased person at a crime scene “for any purpose other than an official law enforcement purpose.” The felony is punishable by up to $1,000 per violation.

Coincidentally, Los Angeles named Wednesday, August 24, as “Kobe Bryant Day” to honor the Los Angeles Lakers star’s two jersey numbers, 8 and 24, that he wore during his NBA career. The Lakers retired both numbers.

Defense wanted to separate emotions from legality

Deliberations began Wednesday shortly after a Los Angeles County attorney argued the trial was a “picture case without pictures,” noting that the gruesome photos of human remains were never actually seen by the public — or even by the plaintiffs.

“No pictures is good. No pictures means no public dissemination … no risk of other people making mistakes,” county attorney Mira Hashmall said in closing arguments of the trial.

In an emotional rebuttal, Bryant’s attorney Luis Li argued Wednesday that the county’s actions in taking such photos were reckless and inhumane and caused emotional distress.

“They poured salt into an incurable wound and that is why we are all here today,” he said.

During closing arguments Wednesday, attorneys for Los Angeles County sought to separate Vanessa Bryant’s emotional testimony from the legal issues the jury must consider.

Hashmall argued that the district’s actions to remove the photos resulted in them never being distributed publicly, and she argued further that first responders taking photos did not violate Bryant’s rights.

She urged the jury to consider the law, which only allows a verdict against the district if it can be proven district policies were flawed enough to prevent the spread of the photos or if there is a long-standing habit of such behavior within the sheriff and fire department. departments

“If the county didn’t take (the photo sharing) seriously, why is this whole case based on the county’s investigation?” she said.

Jurors also struggled with what constitutes “the public” in that case. The plaintiffs argued that any deputy without investigative reason to have the photos should be considered public. One of the deputies shared photos containing human remains with another deputy while they were playing the video game “Call of Duty,” and another showed them to a bartender he considered a friend.

Hashmall agreed that was wrong, but asked the jury to consider whether it “shocked the conscience,” a legal threshold the jury must consider in reaching its verdict.

“Does it shock the conscience that he needed to speak?” Hashmall asked. She also noted that the deputy was disciplined for his actions. “That’s not a constitutional issue, that’s a county issue,” she said.

Jury selected in Vanessa Bryant case against LA County over photos of Kobe's helicopter crash

In their rebuttal, Bryant’s attorneys argued that the photos could still exist because one of the deputies AirDropped them to a firefighter who was not identified. They also argued that the district inadequately investigated the incident, which allowed photos of human remains to potentially surface.

The rejection evoked tears from Vanessa Bryant and Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka in the courtroom. He, Bryant’s attorney, said the jury’s decision is “important for families all over the United States who may suffer a tragedy at some point.”

Referring to testimony given by veteran police officers including Sheriff Alex Villanueva, Li reminded the jury of a practice of first responders to keep “death records” because the Polaroid was around. He told the jury: “This has been going on for decades. Make it stop.”

Bryant sobbed audibly and grabbed tissues as Li stated that photos of the bodies of family members being torn apart are private and should not be shared with deputies just “because they’re wearing a badge the next morning, to offer. [the photos] to their wife.”

Describing how deputies had to go to find Gianna Bryant’s remains in a ravine to photograph her, Li asked, “Does that shock the conscience?”

He said that while there is no jury form to check a box for better training, better policies or more discipline, there is only a box that jurors can check for damages: “Whatever you put in that box will serve to illuminate the legacy . by Kobe and Gianna Bryant.”

He ended by applauding the two whistleblowers, one of whom was sitting in the courtroom. He was emotional as he said, “But for those people, we might never have heard of this.”

CNN’s Cheri Mossburg contributed to this report.

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