SOURCE LAW REVIEW: Vanessa Bryant Wins Legal Victory in Lawsuit Over Kobe Crash Site Photos


A jury has ruled in favor of Vanessa Bryant in her lawsuit against the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (LASD) and L.A. County Fire Department (LAFD), awarding her $16 million in damages after finding that defendants had shared graphic photos of the bodies of her family members from the tragic helicopter crash that claimed the lives of Kobe Bryant, their 13-year-old daughter Gianna, and six more people in January 2020.  Her co-plaintiff, Chris Chester, whose wife and daughter were killed in the crash, was awarded $15 million.

In her suit, Bryant said that she has “suffered and will continue to suffer severe emotional distress”over the photos that were taken from the site, and lives in fear that someday those images will be shared publicly. To prove a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress in California, a plaintiff must prove that the defendant’s conduct was outrageous, the conduct was either reckless or intended to cause emotional distress; and as a result of the defendant’s conduct, the plaintiff suffered severe emotional distress.  In October 2021, defendants demanded that Ms. Bryant and other family members submit psychiatric exams to prove that the shared photos of the crash had caused them emotional distress.

California does not have a set formula for calculating pain and suffering damages. In order to recover damages for pain and suffering (including mental distress) a plaintiff must prove that she suffered this type of harm or that she is certain to suffer such harm in the future. The jury considers several factors: the amount of the plaintiff’s economic losses, the severity of the physical injury, the intent or recklessness of the defendant’s actions, and the strength of the evidence.

The jury found that Ms. Bryant had suffered this harm and found the actions of LASD and LAFD to be reckless.  She was awarded $16 million for non-economic damages. Non- economic damages are those that do not have a specific cost attached, and may be based on pain, suffering, humiliation, limb loss or disfigurement, loss of an organ, and loss of enjoyment of life.

Ms. Bryant has stated that she plans to donate the proceeds of the $16 million judgment to the Mamba and Mambacita Sports Foundation, a non-profit company named after Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna that offers sports education to underserved athletes.