Attorneys for Los Angeles County are asking that a federal judge order the production of Vanessa Bryant's therapy records, which they believe are central to her lawsuit alleging emotional distress caused by the circulation of photos of the Kobe Bryant helicopter crash among sheriff's deputies and others, according to court papers obtained today.
In documents filed in Los Angeles federal court late Friday, the county argues that the request is necessary to defend itself from the lawsuit and to show that Bryant did not actually suffer from the circulation of photos taken at the site of the crash last year that killed the NBA legend, the couple's 13-year-old daughter and seven others.
Skip Miller, outside counsel for LA County, said there's nothing unusual about the request in the context of such a lawsuit.
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"The County continues to have nothing but the deepest sympathy for the enormous grief Ms. Bryant suffered as a result of the tragic helicopter accident," the attorney said in a statement sent to City News Service. "Our motion for access to her medical records, however, is a standard request in lawsuits where a plaintiff demands millions of dollars for claims of emotional distress. I have an obligation to take this step to defend the County."
Bryant's widow alleges she and her family suffered severe emotional distress after discovering that sheriff's deputies snapped and shared gruesome photos of the helicopter crash scene.
Her attorney responded in court papers that therapy records stretching back a decade before the crash "have threadbare relevance, and the County's request should be seen for what it is: a tactic to intimidate Plaintiff into dropping her claims."
The legal fight between Vanessa Bryant and the county intensified previously when county lawyers sought to have Bryant undergo a psychiatric examination in advance of the trial scheduled for February 2022. Lawyers argued in court papers that she cannot have severe distress from crash photos she and the public have never seen.
However, U.S. Magistrate Judge Charles Eick denied the county's motion seeking the exam, deeming the request "untimely." He denied the motion "without prejudice,'' meaning county attorneys could make the request again depending on how the case proceeds.
Bryant won a separate legal victory in the case last month when LA County Sheriff Alex Villanueva and Fire Chief Daryl Osby were ordered to be deposed in the case.
Eick said Villanueva and Osby appear to have "unique first-hand, non-repetitive knowledge" relative to the case. The judge limited each deposition to four hours.
The county's 35-page motion seeks to compel the production of "all documents relating to or reflecting counseling, therapy, psychotherapy, psychiatry or any other mental health treatment provided to Vanessa Bryant from Jan. 1, 2010, to the present."
The county contends her claims of emotional distress are based on allegations the defendants showed accident site photos to other first responders and to a bartender. But the widow contends in her own court papers that the photos were also shared with attendees at an awards show party, a customer at a Norwalk bar, a city firefighter who was not a county employee, the niece of a sheriff's deputy and a friend of another deputy.
"Contrary to Plaintiff's claims, the photographs did not focus on the remains of any of the victims but were general views of the crash scene that first responders and investigators typically use to assess the damage caused by tragic accidents such as this one," according to the county's document. "None of the photographs were sent to anyone outside the County, nor were they publicly disseminated."
The county apparently wants to show that any emotional distress came from the loss of family members, not the cell phone photos, which they claim Bryant has never seen and only learned about from newspaper reports.
"Mrs. Bryant seeks millions of dollars in damages for severe emotional distress, anxiety and mental anguish allegedly caused by the public dissemination of photographs, which has not happened," the filing states.
"She also seeks damages for Defendants' allegedly 'compounding the trauma' of losing her husband and daughter. Plaintiff claims she is depressed and has trouble sleeping. Her damages claims are premised entirely on these mental and emotional injuries. Plaintiff's therapy records go directly to her emotional condition, which she has put squarely at issue in this lawsuit."
The motion is set to be discussed on Nov. 26 before Eick, who is handling discovery issues in the case.