LOS ANGELES (KABC) — A federal jury on Wednesday ordered Los Angeles County to pay $31 million in damages for the actions of deputies and firefighters who took and shared gruesome photos of the scene of the 2020 helicopter crash that killed Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven. other people
The damages were awarded to Bryant’s widow, Vanessa, and co-plaintiff Chris Chester, whose wife Sarah and 13-year-old daughter Payton also died in the January 26, 2020, crash in Calabasas.
Vanessa Bryant was awarded $16 million and Chris Chester was awarded $15 million.
The jury deliberated for 4 1/2 hours before reaching the verdict. Vanessa Bryant cried quietly as it was read.
Chester and Bryant sued the county in federal court for negligence and invasion of privacy over photos of human remains taken at the scene and shared by first responders.
Bryant and Chester claimed mental anguish at the thought that one day in the future, those photos would appear publicly.
Bryant’s attorneys didn’t 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.
After the verdicts were read, Bryant and Chester hugged in the courtroom. She also hugged her lawyer.
Bryant did not speak after leaving court.
She later posted a picture on Instagram of herself, Kobe and Gianna with a caption that read: “All for you! I love you! JUSTICE for Kobe and Gigi! #Betonyourself #MambaDay 8-24-22 #MambaMentality.”
Along with Chester and Bryant’s loved ones, the crash killed Alyssa Altobelli, 14; Keri Altobelli, 46; John Altobelli, 56; Christina Mauser, 38; and pilot Ara Zobayan, 50.
Two other families separately settled with the district over the photos for $1.25 million each. All of the victims’ families have reached a settlement with the helicopter company over the crash, but those terms remain confidential.
For 10 days, jurors heard testimony from LA County firefighters and sheriff’s personnel — some accused of taking the photos, others of receiving them.
The county’s top attorney argued during her summation that the photos have not appeared publicly in the 2 1/2 years since the tragedy, which proves they were permanently deleted.
“This is a photo case, but there are no photos,” the lawyer told jurors in Los Angeles federal court. “There is a simple truth that cannot be ignored — there was no public disclosure.”
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 been made public, and had never even 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.
The LA District provided the following statement from Hashmall, its lead outside counsel in the case:
“We are grateful for the jury’s hard work in this case. Although 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’ request of $75 million for emotional distress. We will discuss next steps with our client. In the meantime, we hope the Bryant and Chester families continue to recover from their tragic loss.”
The jury returned its verdict on Kobe Bryant Day, which is celebrated on August 24 because it uses both of his jersey numbers — 8 and 24 — and is the day after his birthday. Tuesday would have been Kobe’s 44th birthday.
City News Service and the Associated Press contributed to this report.
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