A Los Angeles jury awarded Vanessa Bryant in her lawsuit against Los Angeles County after she alleged that pictures of the crash scene were shared among county officials, and ruled that the county must pay her $16 million.
After more than three hours of deliberation, a federal jury awarded $31 million in damages. Bryant was awarded $16 million in damages and Chris Chester was awarded $15 million.
Immediately after the verdict was read, Bryant hugged her attorneys. As she continued to cry, Bryant then tearfully embraced her daughter Natalia in the front row. She left the courthouse without making a statement, but did post a picture of her, Kobe Bryant, and their daughter Gianna on Instagram with the caption: “All for you! I love you! JUSTICE for Kobe and Gigi!”
County attorney Mira Hashmall, who led outside counsel for L.A. County, released a statement shortly after the verdict.
“While we disagree with the jury’s findings as to the County’s liability, we believe the monetary award shows that jurors didn’t believe the evidence supported the Plaintiffs’ request of $75 million for emotional distress,” Hashmall said. “We will be discussing the next steps with our client. Meanwhile, we hope the Bryant and Chester families continue to heal from their tragic loss.”
The federal jury found both the Sheriff’s and Fire Departments lacked proper policies and training which caused the violation of rights. The only plaintiff claims not supported by jurors was in a finding that the county fire department was not liable for any long-standing widespread practice or custom of taking illicit photos. The sheriff’s department was found liable for the same issue.
At issue in the trial were photos taken by L.A. County deputies and firefighters that included not just wreckage from the helicopter, but the mangled bodies of those killed including NBA star Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna, Chester’s wife Sarah, his daughter Payton and five others.
The National Transportation Safety Board determined the helicopter pilot pushed the limits of bad weather flying rules before he crashed into a hillside in Calabasas, California.
Bryant testified that she felt betrayed to learn first responders had taken personal photos of the crash and said she lives in fear of the images surfacing.
Bryant, 40, told the jury in downtown Los Angeles that county personnel who took photos of the remains of Gianna violated the girl. Fighting through tears and sobs, she said she was devastated to learn that the photos were taken despite Sheriff Alex Villanueva assuring her the crash scene would be protected from such intrusions.
Bryant said she continues to suffer from mental anguish at the thought of crash site photos surfacing someday.
“I live in fear every day of being on social media and these popping up,” she testified. “I live in fear of my daughters being on social media and these popping up.”