LOS ANGELES — Kobe Bryant’s widow, Vanessa, was awarded $16 million as part of a $31 million court verdict Wednesday against Los Angeles County for deputies and firefighters sharing gruesome photos of the NBA star; their 13-year-old daughter, Gianna; and other victims killed in a helicopter crash in 2020.
The nine jurors unanimously agreed with Vanessa Bryant and her lawyers that the photos invaded her privacy and caused emotional distress. She wept quietly as the verdict was read.
The jury deliberated 4½ hours before reaching the verdict on Kobe Bryant Day, which is commemorated in the city of LA on August 24 because it represents his jersey numbers — 8 and 24 — and is the day after his birthday. Tuesday would have been Bryant’s 44th birthday.
After the verdict, Vanessa 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 district declined comment on the verdict outside the courtroom.
The images were shared mostly among employees of the LA County sheriff’s and fire departments, including 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.
Vanessa Bryant tearfully testified during the 11-day trial that news of the photos compounded her still raw grief a month after the deaths of her husband and daughter, and that she still has panic attacks at the thought that the photos could still be out there. .
“I live in fear every day of being on social media and these will pop up,” she testified. “I live in fear that my daughters are on social media and these will come out.”
Her co-plaintiff, Chris Chester, whose wife and daughter were also among the nine people killed in the crash, was awarded $15 million.
“We are grateful for a jury and a judge who gave us a fair verdict,” said Chester’s attorney Jerry Jackson.
Vanessa Bryant’s lawyers didn’t give jurors a dollar amount they thought their client deserved, but Chester’s lawyer gave them suggested guidelines that would have meant tens of millions for each plaintiff.
Vanessa Bryant and her attorney declined comment outside court Wednesday. Her face was still streaked with tears as she walked past TV cameras and dozens of reporters and climbed into an SUV.
Vanessa Bryant’s lawyer Luis Li told jurors that the close-ups had no official or investigative purpose, and were mere “visual gossip” shared out of sheer curiosity.
County Attorney J. Mira Hashmall argued during the trial that the photos were a necessary tool to assess 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 accusers. She said that means Sheriff Alex Villanueva and other officials took decisive and effective action when they ordered those who had the photos to remove them.
Kobe Bryant, the former Lakers star, five-time NBA champion and member of the Basketball Hall of Fame, was traveling with Gianna and seven others to a youth basketball game when the helicopter they were on crashed in the hills of Calabasas west of Los- Angeles on January 26, 2020.
Federal safety officials blamed pilot error for the crash.