Kobe Bryant crash photos trial: Jury finds LA County must pay Vanessa Bryant $16 million and Chris Chester $15 million

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 gruesome photos of the scene of the 2020 helicopter crash that killed Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, and seven other people.

Damages were awarded to Bryant’s widow, Vanessa, and co-plaintiff Chris Chester, whose wife Sarah and 13-year-old daughter Payton also died in the Jan. 26, 2020 crash in Calabasas.

Vanessa Bryant received $16 million and Chris Chester received $15 million.

The jury deliberated for 4.5 hours before returning the verdict. Vanessa Bryant cried softly as she read.

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Chester and Bryant sued the county in federal court for negligence and invasion of privacy over photos of human remains taken at the scene and shared by first responders.

Bryant and Chester alleged mental anguish that someday in the future these photos will be made public.

Bryant’s attorneys didn’t give jurors a dollar amount they thought their client deserved, but Chester’s attorney suggested guidelines that would have meant tens of millions for each plaintiff.

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After the verdicts were read, Bryant and Chester hugged in the courtroom. She also kissed her lawyer.

Bryant did not speak after leaving court.

She then posted a photo of herself, Kobe and Gianna on Instagram with a caption that read, “All for you! Love you! JUSTICE to Kobe and Gigi! #Betonyourself #MambaDay 8-24-22 #MambaMentality .”

Along with relatives of Chester and Bryant, the crash killed 14-year-old Alyssa Altobelli; Keri Altobelli, 46; John Altobelli, 56; Christina Mauser, 38; and pilot Ara Zobayan, 50.

Two other families have settled separately with the county in the photos for $1.25 million each. All of the families of the victims have reached a settlement with the helicopter company over the crash, but those terms remain confidential.

For 10 days, jurors heard testimony from firefighters and LA County Sheriff’s staff – some accused of taking the photos, others of receiving them.

The county’s lead attorney argued during her summary that the photos had not surfaced in public in the 2.5 years since the tragedy, proving they have been permanently deleted.

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“This is a photo case, but there are no photos,” the attorney told jurors in federal court in Los Angeles. “There is a simple truth that cannot be ignored – there was no public broadcast.”

Vanessa Bryant’s attorney, Luis Li, told jurors the close-up photos had no official or investigative purpose and were merely “visual gossip” shared out of macabre curiosity.

County Attorney J. Mira Hashmall argued during the trial that the photos were a necessary tool to assess the situation.

She acknowledged that they shouldn’t have been shared with everyone who saw them. But she pointed out that the photos had never appeared publicly, and had never even been seen by the plaintiffs. She said that meant Sheriff Alex Villanueva and other officials took decisive and effective action when they ordered those with the photos to delete them.

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LA County provided the following statement from Hashmall, its lead outside counsel in the case:

“We are grateful for the hard work of the jury in this case. While we disagree with the jury’s findings as to the county’s liability, we believe the monetary award shows that the jurors did not believe the evidence supported the plaintiffs’ request for $75 million for emotional reasons. We will discuss next steps with our client. In the meantime, we hope the Bryant and Chester families continue to recover from their tragic loss.”

The jury delivered its verdict on Kobe Bryant Day, which is celebrated on August 24 because he uses both of 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 The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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