Jae C. Hong/AP
LOS ANGELES — A federal jury ruled Wednesday that Los Angeles County should pay Kobe Bryant’s widow $16 million for emotional distress caused by deputies and firefighters sharing photos of the bodies of the NBA star and his daughter taken to the site of the 2020 helicopter crash that killed them.
The nine jurors who returned the unanimous verdict agreed with Vanessa Bryant and her attorneys that photos of the remains of Kobe Bryant and their 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, invaded his privacy and brought him emotional distress.
The jury deliberated for 4.5 hours before returning the verdict. Vanessa Bryant cried softly as she read.
A county attorney declined to comment on the verdict outside the courtroom.
The footage was shared primarily among LA County Sheriff and Fire Department employees, 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 an MP was drinking.
Vanessa Bryant tearfully testified during the 11-day trial that news of the photos added to her still raw grief a month after losing her husband and daughter, and that she still has panic attacks at the thought that they could still be there.
“I live in fear every day of being on social networks and that these appear”, she testified. “I live in fear that my daughters will be on social media and these will show up.”
His co-plaintiff Chris Chester, whose wife and daughter were also among the nine people killed in the crash, was awarded $15 million.
Vanessa Bryant’s attorneys didn’t give jurors a dollar amount they thought their client deserved, but Chester’s attorney suggested guidelines that would have meant tens of millions for each plaintiff.
Vanessa Bryant’s attorney, Luis Li, told jurors the close-up photos had no official or investigative purpose and were merely “visual gossip” shared out of macabre 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 shouldn’t have been shared with everyone who saw them. But she pointed out that the photos had never appeared publicly, and had never even been seen by the plaintiffs. She said that meant Sheriff Alex Villanueva and other officials took decisive and effective action when they ordered those with the photos to delete 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 riding in s crashed in the Calabasas hills west of Los Angeles. January 26, 2020.
Federal safety officials blamed pilot error on the crash.
The jury delivered its verdict on Kobe Bryant Day, which is celebrated on August 24 because he uses both of his jersey numbers – 8 and 24 – and is the day after his birthday. Tuesday would have been Kobe’s 44th birthday.