LA County to settle Vanessa Bryant crash-photo lawsuit for $28 million, ending all future claims

ByJory Rand and staff KABC logo
Wednesday, March 1, 2023
LA County to pay $28M to settle Vanessa Bryant suit over crash photos
Vanessa Bryant and her children will receive more than $28 million to settle their claims against LA County over graphic photos taken and shared after the helicopter crash that killed Kobe and Gianna Bryant in 2020.

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- Vanessa Bryant and her children will receive more than $28 million to settle their outstanding claims against Los Angeles County over the graphic photographs taken and shared after the helicopter crash that killed Kobe Bryant and daughter Gianna in 2020.

The settlement includes the $15 million awarded by a jury last summer.

The additional almost $14 million settles other potential additional claims Bryant and her daughters could have pursued in state court.

"Today marks the successful culmination of Mrs. Bryant's courageous battle to hold accountable those who engaged in gross misconduct," said an attorney for Vanessa Bryant to Eyewitness News. "She fought for her husband, her daughter, and all of those in the community whose deceased family were treated with similar disrespect. We hope her victory at trial and this settlement will put an end to this practice."

Mira Hashmall, the attorney representing LA County, called the statement "fair and reasonable" adding, "We hope Ms. Bryant and her children continue to heal from their loss."

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.

Deputies and firefighters responding to the crash scene shot phone photos of the bodies and the wreckage, which Hashmall argued at trial were an essential part of assessing the situation.

But the pictures were shared, mostly between employees of the 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.

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.

Hashmall argued that the sheriff acted swiftly and appropriately when he ordered the photos deleted.

The only punishment meted out to those involved was to L.A. County Sheriff's Dep. Joey Cruz, who shared the grisly photos with a bartender.

The two were caught on video laughing while looking at Cruz's phone. Cruz was originally suspended for 10 days without pay but upon appeal, that was lowered to just two days, and three days of training. The most anyone else got was a note on their record that can be removed.

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 and her daughters might someday see them online.

The verdict in her favor was erroneously read as $16 million in court, but was later amended to $15 million.

Federal safety officials blamed pilot error for the crash itself.

Chris Chester, Vanessa Bryant's co-plaintiff at the trial, was also awarded $15 million at trial, and reached his own settlement with the county in September for nearly $5 million more.

Jury orders LA County to pay $31 million in lawsuit over Kobe Bryant crash photos

A jury ordered L.A. County to pay $31 million in damages to Vanessa Bryant and a co-plaintiff over the sharing of photos from the scene of the crash that killed Kobe Bryant and eight others.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.