Jurors sided with Vanessa Bryant Wednesday afternoon in the trial over photos taken at the hillside site northwest of Los Angeles where nine people, including Lakers star Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, died in a January 2020 helicopter crash.
The jury decided that Los Angeles County should have to pay $16 million to Vanessa Bryant, Kobe Bryant's widow, and $15 million to Irvine financial adviser and co-plaintiff Chris Chester. Chester's wife Sarah and the couple's 13-year-old daughter Payton, were among the nine people killed in the Jan. 26, 2020, crash in the hills above Calabasas.
Closing arguments concluded Wednesday morning and the verdict was returned just hours later.
"You could cut the emotion with a knife," said legal analyst Royal Oakes. "Even though she was wearing a mask, Vanessa could be seen mouthing 'thank you' and nodding to the jury."
Get New England news, weather forecasts and entertainment stories to your inbox. Sign up for NECN newsletters.
Jurors in downtown Los Angeles reached their verdict after roughly four and a half hours of deliberations.
This is how the dollar amounts break down for Bryant's award:
- $2.5 million for past suffering caused by the LA County Sheriff’s Department
- $7.5 million for future suffering caused by the LA County Sheriff’s Department
- $1 million for past suffering caused by LA County Fire Department
- $5 million for future suffering caused by LA County Fire Department
Shortly after the verdict Wednesday afternoon, Vanessa Bryant posted a photo to Instagram of herself, Kobe and Gigi, with the caption: "All for you! I love you! JUSTICE for Kobe and Gigi! #Betonyourself #MambaDay 8•24•22 💜💛💜💛"
“We are grateful for the jury’s hard work in this case. While we disagree with the jury’s findings as to the County’s liability, we believe the monetary award shows that jurors didn’t believe the evidence supported the Plaintiffs’ request of $75 million for emotional distress. We will be discussing next steps with our client. Meanwhile, we hope the Bryant and Chester families continue to heal from their tragic loss," Mira Hashmall, Lead Outside Counsel for LA County, said in a statement to NBCLA following the verdict.
Closing arguments in the case began Tuesday afternoon on Kobe Bryant's 44th birthday.
Vanessa Bryant arrived at the downtown Los Angeles courthouse, just blocks away from where a mural honoring her husband on LA's Mamba Day was unveiled outside an office building, with her daughter Natalia holding one hand and Angel City FC and Team USA soccer star Sydney Leroux holding the other.
The plaintiffs allege that county personnel took cell phone pictures of human remains as "souvenirs" and shared them with other law enforcement personnel and members of the public.
Bryant testified that she felt betrayed to learn first responders had taken personal photos of the crash, and said she lives in fear of the images surfacing.
Bryant, 40, told the jury in downtown Los Angeles that county personnel who took photos of the remains of Gianna violated the girl. Fighting through tears and sobs, she said she was devastated to learn that the photos were taken despite Sheriff Alex Villanueva assuring her the crash scene would be protected from such intrusions.
Bryant said she continues to suffer from mental anguish at the thought of crash site photos surfacing someday.
“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.”
Pictures: These are the Victims in the Kobe Bryant Helicopter Crash
The county argues that all images taken by deputies and firefighters were deleted upon orders of their superiors, no longer exist in any form and never entered the public domain or appeared on the internet.
Evidence presented at trial showed that a sheriff's deputy showed a photo of Bryant's body to a bartender as he drank, spurring an official complaint from another man drinking nearby, and that firefighters shared them with each other at an awards banquet. Others shared them with spouses. An attorney for the county said the photos had been taken only because they were essential for assessing the site moments after the crash, and that when LA County Sheriff Alex Villanueva learned they were being shared, he demanded they all be deleted.