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Vanessa Bryant, widow of Kobe, awarded $29M in crash photos lawsuit

A federal judge in Los Angeles County has awarded additional monies to the 40-year-old philanthropist following a smaller judgment last year.

Vanessa Bryant, center, leaves a federal courthouse in Los Angeles last fall with her daughter Natalia, center left. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Vanessa Bryant, the widow of Kobe Bryant, has been awarded nearly $29M in the final proceedings of her civil trial against Los Angeles County concerning the unauthorized sharing of photos depicting the helicopter crash site where he, their daughter, and seven others died in January 2020.

The settlement amount, announced on February 28, includes an earlier award of $15M received by Bryant in federal court last year.

“Today marks the successful culmination of Mrs. Bryant's courageous battle to hold accountable those who engaged in this grotesque conduct,” said her attorney, Luis Li, in a statement.

“She fought for her husband, her daughter, and all 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.”

Bryant initially filed suit in September 2020, alleging invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress concerning the photos. They were shared by a fire captain and various sheriff’s deputies, one of whom was recorded sharing the photos at a local bar.

The 40-year-old philanthropist said she learned of the pictures through reports in local media and told the court that she has since suffered compounded grief and panic attacks.

“She lives in fear that she or her children will one day confront horrific images of their loved ones online,” her initial filing read, in reference to her three surviving children, now ranging in age from 20 to 3 years old.

Chris Chester, another plaintiff in the case whose wife and daughter were killed in the Calabasas, California crash, received a settlement of just under $20M.

Kobe and Gianna Bryant were the most notable occupants of the helicopter, having boarded the aircraft in Orange County after visiting the family’s local Catholic parish to pray. They were headed to a basketball game at Bryant’s sports complex in Newbury Park, just west of Los Angeles County, when the copter crashed due to what federal officials have ruled was pilot error. All on board were killed.

Lawyers for Los Angeles County initially argued that their first responders did not engage in any criminal activity and that the photos they took at the scene were never shared publicly. Shortly after Bryant’s lawsuit filing, however, California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed legislation making it a crime for such photos to be taken without proper authorization.

On Tuesday, county lawyers called the final settlement—part of roughly $50M in penalties—“fair and reasonable.”

“We hope Ms. Bryant and her children continue to heal from their loss.”

As with last year’s verdict, Bryant says she will donate the funds to the Mamba & Mambacita Sports Foundation following a federal judge’s signing of the settlement order.

The organization was founded by Kobe and Vanessa in 2018 to provide sports programming for children in underserved communities. This has included the construction of basketball courts across the country in partnership with the sports beverage company BODYARMOR.

While still serving the same goal, the organization has become a memorial foundation for Kobe and Gianna and counts among its partners Nike, the Los Angeles Lakers, Spalding, and Spectrum Sportsnet.

Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger and a seminarian with the Josephites.

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