The world was shocked on January 26, 2020, when basketball legend Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter, and seven others were killed in a helicopter accident. Now, more than two years later, Bryant’s wife Vanessa Bryant has been awarded millions of dollars from Los Angeles County.
What led the jury to award $15 million to Bryant’s family?
The Terrible Accident
It wasn’t unusual for the Bryant family to use a helicopter to avoid the congested roadways near their home in Orange County, California. But, the ride on January 26, 2020, didn’t end as usual.
Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, and six other passengers (which included two of Gianna Bryant’s teammates and their parents) were headed to the girl’s basketball game when, according to reports, the pilot of the helicopter became disoriented. Investigators believe the pilot entered a blanket of clouds and thought he was climbing when he was descending rapidly.
The helicopter crashed into a hillside killing all nine people on board.
The Photos of the Terrible Accident
When responders arrived at the scene, all of the passengers were deceased. The debris was scattered across the length of a football field. What some first responders did upon arriving is what led to Bryant’s lawsuit.
Some of the first responders took photos of the scene and victims on their personal devices.
Bryant alleged, “No fewer than eight sheriff’s deputies at the crash site, pulled out their personal cell phones and snapped photos of the dead children, parents and coaches. The deputies took these photos for their own personal gratification.”
Bryant also alleged responders showed the photos to others and tried to cover it up.
Eight months after the accident, Bryant filed a lawsuit claiming civil rights violations, negligence, emotional distress, and violation of privacy.
The filing from Bryant’s legal team said, “Discovery has shown that the close-up photos of Gianna and Kobe’s remains were passed around on at least twenty-eight Sheriff’s Department devices and by at least a dozen firefighters.”
“It has also shown that Defendants engaged in a cover up, destroying the direct forensic evidence of their misconduct and requiring extensive circumstantial evidence to establish the full extent of that misconduct.”
Bryant filed the lawsuit in federal court. The lawsuit also included another plaintiff Chris Chester, whose wife Sarah and daughter Payton were also killed in the accident.
As reported by CNN, the trial began on August 10, 2022 and revealed many details about the aftermath of the 2020 crash.
Bryant took the stand and described how she asked Los Angeles County Sheriff, Alex Villanueva to secure the scene to prevent paparazzi from gaining access. She said Villanueva assured her the scene would be secure.
Bryant also described the panic attacks and anxiety she has over the possibility of seeing the photos from the accident and how she received messages on Instagram indicating that people had photos of her loved ones. Her attorney showed a comment sent to her which said, “Ima leak Kobe’s body” along with helicopter and fire emojis.
Law enforcement personnel also took the stand. Some gave details about how they shared photos, and multiple witnesses described how a sheriff’s deputy trainee asked them if they wanted to see photos of the victim’s bodies.
After the 11-day trial, the jury came to a decision.
The jury unanimously found Los Angeles County liable for damages.
Bryant had not made a specific request for damages, and attorneys for the Chester family had requested up to $32.5 million. In the end, the jury awarded both Bryant and Chester $15 million each.
The awards is broken down as:
- $1.5 million to each plaintiff from the sheriff’s department for past emotional distress
- $7.5 million to each plaintiff from the sheriff’s department for future suffering
- $6 million to each plaintiff from the L.A. County Fire Department for emotional suffering
(Initially, the jury awarded $16 million to Bryant, but it was later reduced to $15 million when a juror discovered an error.)
Bryant doesn’t plan to keep the money.
She said she will donate the $15 million to the Mamba & Mambacita Sports Foundation. The non-profile began as the Mamba Sports Foundation but was later renamed to honor both Kobe and Gianna Bryant. It provides funding and sports programming to underserved athletes.
Protect Yourself and Your Loved Ones
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