Kobe Bryant’s widow, Vanessa, was awarded $16 million as part of a $31 million jury verdict Wednesday against Los Angeles County for deputies and firefighters sharing gruesome photos of the NBA star, their 13-year-old daughter, Gianna; and other victims killed in a 2020 helicopter crash.
The nine jurors unanimously agreed with Vanessa Bryant and her attorneys that the photos invaded her privacy and caused emotional distress. She cried quietly as the verdict was read.
The jury deliberated 4½ hours before reaching the verdict on Kobe Bryant Day, commemorated in the city of L.A. on Aug. 24 because it represents his jersey numbers — 8 and 24 — and is the day after his birthday. Tuesday would have been Bryant’s 44th birthday.
The pictures were primarily shared among L.A. County sheriff’s and fire department employees, including by some who were playing video games and attending an awards banquet. They also were seen by some of their spouses and, in one case, by a bartender at a bar where a deputy was drinking.
Vanessa Bryant tearfully testified during the 11-day trial that news of the photos compounded her still-raw grief a month after her husband’s and daughter’s deaths and that she still has panic attacks at the thought that the pictures might still be out there.
Her 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 lawyer Luis Li told jurors that the close-up photos had no official or investigative purpose and were mere “visual gossip” shared out of a gruesome curiosity.
County attorney J. Mira Hashmall argued during the trial that the photos were necessary for assessing the situation.
She acknowledged that they should not have been shared with everyone who saw them. But she emphasized that the photos had never appeared publicly and had never been seen by the plaintiffs. She said that meant that Sheriff Alex Villanueva and other officials had taken decisive and effective action when they ordered those who had 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 aboard crashed into hills in Calabasas west of Los Angeles on Jan. 26, 2020.
Federal safety officials blamed pilot error for the crash.