Kobe Crash Photo Suit Wins $31M as Government Conduct Draws Jury Ire

In a decision intended to both compensate Vanessa Bryant and Chris Chester—who lost his wife and 13-year-old daughter in the 2020 helicopter crash that killed Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna Bryant, and five others—while sending a message to invaders of privacy that they’ll pay a steep price, a Los Angeles jury on Wednesday awarded Bryant $16 million and Chester $15 million for invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

They successfully sued the County of Los Angeles and other government bodies in federal court over deputies and firefighters taking and sharing unauthorized crime scene photos.

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Jurors found that law enforcement officers were less interested in performing the duties of their jobs and more inclined to act like wannabe paparazzi. The graphic photos were shared with spouses, others at a bar and unidentified persons who have seen them online.

In court documents, attorneys for Bryant described suffering severe emotional distress on account of knowing “the images of her husband and daughter’s remains were taken and shared for the perverse gratification of law enforcement officers, and she fears she and her family may confront the appalling photos at any moment on the Internet.”

To that point, two months after the crash, Bryant “encountered an Instagram user who stated that she had seen pictures of Kobe and Gianna’s bodies at the accident, and numerous Twitter users have made similar statements.”

Some might question whether the verdict and monetary award will be meaningful to Bryant, whose net worth has been estimated at over $600 million. Whether the additional millions of dollars will impact her life is not the relevant consideration for the legal system. The lawsuit, and the prospect for monetary damages, were the only recourse available to Bryant to hold the wrongdoers accountable.

Though taxpayers and/or insurance companies will ultimately pay for the negligent acts of government employees, the monetary amount could still serve as a catalyst for departmental and policy change. The award also warns others, be they in the public or private sector, that they too could face a substantial penalty for invading others’ privacy.

According to a National Transportation Safety Board investigation, poor decisions by the pilot, including his choice to continue to fly in inclement weather, led to the crash. Kobe Bryant, who was a five-time NBA champion, two-time NBA finals MVP and 18-time NBA All Star, would have turned 44 years old on Tuesday. Los Angeles and Orange County celebrated Kobe Bryant Day on Wednesday, with the date of 8/24 representing his jersey numbers.

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