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Judge rejects request to force Vanessa Bryant to undergo psychiatric exam

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The widow of NBA legend Kobe Bryant will not be forced to undergo a psychiatric examination as part of her lawsuit against Los Angeles County, according to a ruling handed down Monday in federal court.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Charles Eick rejected the county’s request to compel an independent medical examination of Vanessa Bryant, ruling that the county’s request was untimely as her lawsuit heads to trial in February.

Bryant has accused county first responders of improperly sharing photos of her dead husband and daughter from a helicopter crash last year and is suing the county for invasion of privacy and negligence.

In its defense, the county had argued that it needed the psychiatric exam to help determine whether she suffered emotional distress from any sharing of the photos as she claimed.

“Plaintiffs’ damages claims are premised entirely on their alleged severe and ongoing emotional distress, anxiety and depression, precisely the type of allegations that warrant (independent medical exams),” the county's attorney stated in recent court documents. “Plaintiffs try to paint the County’s motion as a heartless attempt to force them into a hostile, re-traumatizing situation. This could not be farther from the case. (Such exams) are a routine part of the discovery process in cases where severe emotional distress is at issue. While the County is deeply sympathetic to Plaintiffs for their loss, their wealth and celebrity do not excuse them from rules of discovery.”

Vanessa Bryant, shown May 15, 2021, speaks on behalf of her late husband Kobe Bryant during the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Class of 2020 induction ceremony.
Vanessa Bryant, shown May 15, 2021, speaks on behalf of her late husband Kobe Bryant during the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Class of 2020 induction ceremony.

Eick still rejected the county’s motion for one reason. He said it was made too late.

“The Motion is untimely unless and until the District Judge modifies the `Amended Scheduling and Case Management Order’ in these related cases,” Eick stated.

That scheduling order set an Oct. 4 deadline for expert reports, as plaintiffs attorneys noted in recent court documents.

The county argued that there is no rule that such an examinations must be conducted before expert reports are due – and that such reports are not required to be produced at all unless requested by a party or the examinee.

VANESSA BRYANT: Recounts the day her husband and daughter died

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The ruling comes as the county’s Board of Supervisors on Tuesday is set to consider whether to approve a proposed settlement that would pay $1.25 million each to two other families that also lost loved ones in the crash last year that killed nine. The Mauser and Altobelli families had filed similar lawsuits against the county, accusing county sheriff’s and fire department employees of improperly sharing photos of human remains from the crash scene.

If the board approves that settlement as expected, that would leave Bryant and Chris Chester as the only two plaintiffs with active lawsuits against the county over the crash-scene photos. Eick's ruling also prevents the county from forcing a psychiatric examination of Chester, who lost his wife and daughter in the crash.

Bryant’s lawsuit seeks compensatory and punitive damages to punish the deputy defendants and “make an example of them to the community.” She testified under oath in a pretrial deposition in October about the emotional distress she said she suffered over the photos.

MORE: Vanessa Bryant airs names of deputies in lawsuit over photos

“Emotional distress means that not only do I have to grieve to the loss of my husband and child, but for the rest of my life I'm going to have to fear that these photographs of my husband and child will be leaked,” she said according to a transcript of the proceeding that was submitted in court. “And I do not want my little girls or I to ever have to see their remains in that matter. Nor do I think it's right that the photographs were taken in the first place because it's already tough enough that I have to experience this heartache and this loss. But now to live the rest of my life having to fear those photographs surfacing is something that I, I have to deal with every single day.”

The county’s position has been that the photos were not posted on the internet and not “publicly disseminated” beyond isolated cases at a bar and a banquet. Therefore, the county has argued Bryant couldn’t have suffered emotional distress from it.

“The fact remains that no crash site photos taken by first responders have ever been publicly disseminated, as Ms. Bryant confirmed in her deposition,” said a recent statement from Skip Miller, the outside counsel defending the county in the lawsuit. “We totally sympathize with the enormous loss she has suffered. But as a legal matter, we don’t believe she could be harmed by something that didn’t occur.”

Miller declined to comment on the judge's ruling Monday.

Follow reporter Brent Schrotenboer @Schrotenboer. E-mail: bschrotenb@usatoday.com

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Vanessa Bryant: Judge rejects request to force exam of Kobe's widow