A federal jury awarded $16 million to Vanessa Bryant, widow of Kobe Bryant, in a lawsuit against Los Angeles County over the alleged distribution of photos from the Los Angeles Lakers legend's crash site, according to Alene Tchekmedyian of the Los Angeles Times.
Another plaintiff, Chris Chester, was awarded $15 million in the same lawsuit.
The payouts reportedly have the L.A. Sheriff's Department paying Bryant $2.5 million for emotional distress and $7.5 million for future suffering, while the L.A. County Fire Department owes her $1 million for past suffering and $5 million for future.
Per the Times, Bryant cried with her hands folded in a prayer position as the verdict was read. She soon left without speaking to reporters. The jury reportedly deliberated for only a few hours after 10 days of testimony.
Part of the difference in payments was the jury reportedly finding the Sheriff's Department has a practice of sharing deceased people, while the Fire Department merely lacks sufficient training and policies.
Vanessa Bryant's crash site photo lawsuit has been two years in the making
Bryant originally filed her suit in Sept. 2020, eight months after helicopter crash that killed her husband, 13-year-old daughter Gianna, Chester's wife Sarah and daughter Payton and five others. Per a report from the Los Angeles Times in February, a group of deputies were found to have taken or shared graphic photos from the crash site.
Sheriff Alex Villanueva reportedly ordered the deputies to delete the photos, but otherwise kept the matter under wraps until a complaint was filed. L.A. County denied Bryant had any viable claim to emotional distress and attempted to have the lawsuit dismissed, but the case eventually reached the courtroom, where things got ugly and emotional.
Bryant took the stand on Aug. 10 and testified she still experiences panic attacks from having to deal with the existence and distribution of the photos, starting from the moment she learned of them, via CNN:
"I just remember not wanting to react cause the girls were in the room," she testified, her voice rising with emotion. "I said, 'I can't do this.' ... And I bolted out of the house and I ran to the side of the house so the girls couldn't see me. I wanted to run... down the block and just scream. I can't escape my body. I can't escape what I feel."
Bryant's lawyer, Luis Lee, reportedly played jurors video of an off-duty deputy drinking at a bar and showing photos to the bartender, who was shaking his head, with another image showed the two men laughing together. Earlier filings alleged the grotesque behavior continued for weeks, including at a firefighter awards gala.
From the Washington Post:
“The gratuitous sharing continued in the following days and weeks and included such outrageous conduct as flaunting the photos in a bar while pantomiming dismemberment and showing off the photos over cocktails at an awards gala. One deputy guffawed while sharing the photos; another described the crash victims’ remains as ‘hamburger’ and ‘piles of meat.’ ”
All told, Li claimed that photos of Kobe and Gianna were passed around on at least 28 sheriff's department devices and by at least a dozen firefighters.
L.A. County reacts to Vanessa Bryant verdict
After the trial, a law firm representing the county in the trial released a statement expressing disappointment with the result and relief that Bryant didn't get the $75 million she was seeking.
"We are grateful for the jury's hard work in this case. 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. We will be discussing next steps with our client. Meanwhile, we hope the Bryant and Chester families continue to heal from their tragic loss."
Vanessa Bryant has fiercely protected Kobe's legacy
This wasn't the only legal action to emerge from the crash, as Bryant also settled a lawsuit against the helicopter involved in the deadly flight and the estate of pilot Ara Zobayan, who also died in the crash.
Beyond that, Bryant has persistently done what she can for her husband and daughter's legacy, including a moving Hall of Fame speech and "Mambacita" tattoo. She has also taken more aggressive steps, such as accusing certain figures of slander for calling Kobe a rapist and crying foul over the premature release of a shoe she designed for Gianna.