LOS ANGELES (KABC) — A federal jury on Wednesday ordered Los Angeles County to pay $31 million in damages for the actions of deputies and firefighters who took and shared horrific photos of the site of the 2020 helicopter crash that left Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others. people.
The damages were awarded to Bryant’s widow, Vanessa, and co-claimant Chris Chester, whose wife Sarah and 13-year-old daughter Payton were also killed in the January 26, 2020 crash in Calabasas.
Vanessa Bryant received $16 million and Chris Chester received $15 million.
The jury deliberated for 4 1/2 hours before reaching the verdict. Vanessa Bryant cried softly as it was read.
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Chester and Bryant have sued the county in federal court for negligence and invasion of privacy of photos of human remains taken at the scene and shared by first responders.
Bryant and Chester claimed to have mental apprehension about the thought of those photos ever appearing in public in the future.
Bryant’s attorneys did not give the jurors any dollar amount they believed their client deserved, but Chester’s attorney suggested guidelines that would have meant tens of millions to each plaintiff.
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After the verdicts were read, Bryant and Chester hugged in the courtroom. She also hugged her lawyer.
Bryant did not speak after leaving court.
She later posted a photo of herself, Kobe and Gianna on Instagram with the caption, “All for you! I love you! JUSTICE for Kobe and Gigi! #Betonyourself #MambaDay 8-24-22 #MambaMentality.”
Along with the loved ones of Chester and Bryant, Alyssa Altobelli (14) died; Keri Altobelli, 46; John Altobelli, 56; Christina Mauser, 38; and pilot Ara Zobayan, 50.
Two other families separately settled with the county over the photos for $1.25 million each. All of the victims’ families have reached a settlement with the helicopter company over the crash, but those terms remain confidential.
For ten days, the jurors heard testimonies from LA County firefighters and sheriff’s staff — some accused of taking the photos, others of receiving them.
The county’s lead attorney claimed during her summons that the photos have not surfaced publicly in the 2 1/2 years since the tragedy, proving that they have been permanently deleted.
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“This is a photo shop, but there are no photos,” the attorney told Los Angeles federal court jurors. “There is a simple truth that cannot be ignored – there has been no public dissemination.”
Vanessa Bryant’s attorney Luis Li told jurors that the close-up photos had no official or investigative purpose and were just “visual gossip” shared out of horrifying curiosity.
Attorney J. Mira Hashmall argued at trial that the photos were a necessary tool to assess the situation.
She acknowledged that they should not have been shared with anyone who saw them. But she stressed that the photos had never appeared in public, and had never even been seen by the plaintiffs. She said this meant Sheriff Alex Villanueva and other officials had taken decisive and effective action when they ordered those who had the photos to remove them.
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LA County provided the following statement from Hashmall, the lead outside counsel in the case:
“We are grateful for the jury’s hard work in this case. While we disagree with the jury’s findings regarding the county’s liability, we believe that the cash award shows that the jurors did not believe that “We will discuss the next steps with our client. In the meantime, we hope the Bryant and Chester families continue to heal from their tragic loss.”
The jury ruled on Kobe Bryant Day, which is celebrated on August 24 because it uses both his jersey numbers – 8 and 24 – and is the day after his birthday. Tuesday would have been Kobe’s 44th birthday.
City News Service and Associated Press contributed to this report.
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