Widow of Kobe Bryant Wins $28M Over Leaked Death Photos
LOS ANGELES — Los Angeles County agreed Tuesday to pay the family of Kobe Bryant $28.8 million after his wife sued over gruesome photos sheriff’s deputies and firefighters displayed of the helicopter crash scene where the basketball star and his 13-year-old daughter were killed in 2020.
Vanessa Bryant and co-plaintiff Christopher Chester presented evidence at trial that the crash site photos showing dismembered body parts were circulated among more than two dozen people, many of whom had no investigatory authority in the case.
Afterward, county officials were accused of trying to cover up the improprieties as word of the photographs leaked to the media.
Seven other people were killed in the crash as the helicopter slammed into a hillside on a foggy morning.
“Today marks the successful culmination of Mrs. Bryant’s courageous battle to hold accountable those who engaged in this grotesque conduct,” Bryant’s attorney, Luis Li, said in a statement. “She fought for her husband, her daughter, and all those in the community whose deceased family were treated with similar disrespect. We hope her victory at trial and this settlement will put an end to this practice.”
Bryant, his daughter Gianna, and six family friends rented the helicopter and hired the pilot to fly them to a youth basketball game in Thousand Oaks, California. The chartered helicopter hit the hillside after the pilot apparently became disoriented in the heavy fog, police said.
The emergency responders reportedly showed the photos to colleagues, friends, a bartender and attendees at an awards ceremony.
A month after the accident, The Los Angeles Times reported the photos were being circulated among apparent curiosity seekers.
The newspaper report quoted then-Sheriff Alex Villanueva admitting that eight Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies who took the photos had shared them with other persons. Villanueva ordered the photos destroyed.
Vanessa Bryant sued along with Chester, whose wife and daughter died in the crash. The lawsuit claimed the unauthorized photo-sharing violated their privacy rights and caused them emotional distress.
Their attorneys in federal court demonstrated to the jury how deputies and firefighters circulated the photos through their cellphones to their spouses, friends and other first responders. Some of them forwarded the photos to other people.
One witness testified sending the photos around took on the character of a “party trick.”
A real estate investor who testified at the trial said he was “disgusted” when a bartender told him a sheriff’s deputy was showing photos of Kobe Bryant’s remains. He filed an official complaint on the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department website.
“I was in disbelief,” he told the jury. “Disappointed. Disgusted and angry.”
Vanessa Bryant rushed out of the courtroom in tears.
The jury awarded her and Chester $15 million. Further settlement negotiations raised the figure to $28.8 million.
When attorneys fees and related legal costs are added, Los Angeles County officials say they expect to pay out a total of $51 million on the case.
Mira Hashmall, an attorney for the county, said the settlement approved by the Board of Supervisors was “fair and reasonable.” The amount over $15 million was supposed to resolve any future claims by Bryant’s children and pending claims in state court.
“This settlement now concludes all county-related litigation related to the tragic January 2020 helicopter crash,” Hashmall said. “We hope Mrs. Bryant and her children continue to heal from their loss.”
Kobe Bryant was a guard who spent his entire 20-year career playing for the Los Angeles Lakers in the National Basketball Association. He was widely regarded as one of basketball’s greatest players, which included helping to win five NBA championships. He was an 18-time All-Star for the basketball league.
He died at 41 years old.
The case is Vanessa Bryant v. County of Los Angeles et al in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.
Tom can be reached on Twitter at @tramstack.