LOS ANGELES – Kobe Bryant’s widow, Vanessa, was awarded $16 million as part of Wednesday’s $31 million jury verdict against Los Angeles County for deputies and firefighters sharing gruesome photos of the NBA star; their 13 year old daughter, Gianna; and another victim died in the 2020 helicopter crash.
The nine jurors unanimously agreed with Vanessa Bryant and her attorney that the photos violated her privacy and caused emotional distress. She wept quietly as the verdict was read.
The jury deliberated 4½ hours before reaching a verdict on Kobe Bryant Day, which is commemorated in LA on August 24 because it represents his jersey number — 8 and 24 — and is the day after his birthday. Tuesday will be Bryant’s 44th birthday.
After the verdict, Vanessa Bryant post photos on Instagram herself with her husband and daughter.
“All for you!” read the caption. “I love you! JUSTICE to Kobe and Gigi!”
An attorney for the county declined to comment on the ruling outside the courtroom.
The photos were mostly shared among LA County sheriff and fire department employees, including by some people playing video games and attending awards banquets. They were also seen by several of their partners and in one case by a bartender at a bar where a representative was drinking.
Vanessa Bryant tearfully testified during her 11-day trial that news of the photos added to her still raw grief a month after the deaths of her husband and daughter, and that she is still having panic attacks at the thought that the photos might still be out there. . .
“I live in fear every day of being on social media and it’s popping up,” he testified. “I live in fear of my daughter being on social media and this is popping up.”
His co-plaintiff, Chris Chester, whose wife and daughter were also among the nine people killed in the crash, was awarded $15 million.
“We are grateful for the jury and judges who gave us a fair trial,” said Chester’s attorney, Jerry Jackson.
Attorney Vanessa Bryant didn’t give the jury the dollar amount they thought their client deserved, but Chester’s attorney gave them a suggested guideline that amounted to tens of millions for each plaintiff.
Vanessa Bryant and her attorneys declined to comment out of court Wednesday. Her face still had tears in her eyes as she walked past the TV cameras and dozens of reporters and got into an SUV.
Vanessa Bryant’s attorney, Luis Li, told the jury that the close-up photos had no official or investigative purpose, and only “visual gossip” was shared out of eerie curiosity.
County attorney J. Mira Hashmall argued during the trial that the photos were a necessary tool for assessing the situation.
He admits that they shouldn’t be shared with everyone who sees them. But he insists that the photos never appeared to the public and were never seen by the plaintiffs. He said it meant that Sheriff Alex Villanueva and other officials had taken firm and effective action when they ordered those with photos to have them removed.
Kobe Bryant, a former Lakers star, five-time NBA champion and member of the Basketball Hall of Fame, was traveling with Gianna and seven other people to a youth basketball game when the helicopter they were traveling in crashed into the hills in Calabasas west of Los Angeles on January 26, 2020.
Federal security officials blamed pilot error for the crash.