Los Angeles County has agreed to pay one of two plaintiffs $19.95 million in a recent lawsuit over gruesome photos of the helicopter crash that killed NBA legend Kobe Bryant in January 2020.
The settlement with Chris Chester’s family includes a $15million verdict awarded to him last month after a two-week jury trial where Bryant’s widow, Vanessa, also won a $15million judgment . In exchange for accepting a higher amount, Chester also agreed to settle any pending litigation or future claims by him or his family after losing his wife, Sarah, and daughter, Payton, in the same accident.
Bryant did not settle with the county. Both sued the county for invasion of privacy in 2020 and eventually presented their cases to a civil jury in August. They alleged county sheriff and fire department employees used their personal phones to share and post photos of their deceased family members at the scene of the crash, despite having no legitimate reason to do it.
The county board of supervisors unanimously cleared the settlement to the Chester family on Tuesday.
“We believe the $19,950,000 settlement with the Chester family is fair and reasonable for everyone involved,” said Mira Hashmall, partner at the law firm Miller Barondess and lead county attorney in the Bryant- Chester. “This amount includes the $15 million verdict awarded to Mr. Chester by the federal jury and resolves all outstanding issues regarding the state’s pending claims, future claims by the Chester children, attorneys’ fees and expenses. We sincerely hope that this settlement will help Mr. Chester and his children move forward with their lives.
Last year, the county agreed to pay $1.25 million each to two other families who lost loved ones in the same crash, then filed similar lawsuits over photos of their loved ones. But Chester and Bryant opted to take their cases to court, where a nine-person jury found their constitutional right to control footage of family members’ deaths had been violated by sheriff and fire departments. The jury awarded them damages for past and future emotional distress after their lawyers argued in court that both now lived in fear that these grisly photos would resurface at any moment.
In its defense, the county said the photos were never posted online and were deleted shortly after the accident to prevent them from spreading further.
This case was not about the fault of the accident itself, but rather what happened afterward when first responders attended the scene, took photos and shared them. Last year, the families also reached a confidential agreement with the operator of the convicted helicopter.
Bryant still has leverage against County in the photos case. After winning at trial, both plaintiffs could have filed suits under California state law against the county that were part of their lawsuit, but not part of their constitutional rights lawsuit in federal court. Chester solved this problem by settling with the county an amount greater than the verdict of his trial. But Bryant could still pursue it and has considered it, according to court records.
“These are different claims now because, as the court found, taking pictures is not a violation under (federal precedent), whereas taking pictures is a violation under the statute. of the state, an invasion of privacy,” Bryant’s attorney, Luis Li, said in court. August 26. “So we haven’t decided what to do yet.”
Follow journalist Brent Schrotenboer @Schrotenboer. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org