Kobe Bryant's widow was awarded $16 million as part of a $31 million jury verdict Wednesday against Los Angeles County for deputies and firefighters sharing grisly photos of the NBA star, his 13-year-old daughter 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 it was read.
The jury deliberated 4 1/2 hours before reaching the verdict on Kobe Bryant Day, which is celebrated in LA on Aug 24 because it represents his jersey numbers — 8 and 24 — and is the day after his birthday. He would have turned 44 on Tuesday. After the verdict, Vanessa Bryant posted a photo on Instagram of herself with her husband and daughter. "All for you!" the caption read. "I love you! JUSTICE for Kobe and Gigi!" An attorney for the county declined comment on the verdict outside the courtroom.
The pictures were shared mostly between employees of the LA County sheriff's and fire departments including by some who were playing video games and attending an awards banquet. They were also 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 losing her husband and daughter, and that she still has panic attacks at the thought that they might still be out there.
"I live in fear every day of being on social media and these popping up," she testified. "I live in fear of my daughters being on social media and these popping up." Her co-plaintiff Chris Chester, whose wife and daughter were also among the nine people killed in the crash, was awarded $15 million.
"We're grateful for a jury and a judge who gave us a fair trial," said Chester's lawyer Jerry Jackson.
Vanessa Bryant's attorneys did not give jurors a dollar amount they thought their client deserved, but Chester's attorney gave them suggested guidelines that would have meant tens of millions for each plaintiff.
Vanessa Bryant and her attorney declined comment outside court Wednesday. Her face was still streaked with tears as she walked past TV cameras and dozens of reporters and climbed into an SUV.
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 a necessary tool 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 even 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.