Two years after the tragic helicopter crash that claimed the lives of her husband Kobe and their daughter Gianna, Vanessa Bryant is in the midst of a controversial legal battle.
Bryant filed a lawsuit in September 2020, alleging that she and her family suffered emotional distress because employees of the Los Angeles County Police and Fire Department took and shared gruesome photos at the crash site. She doesn’t seem willing to settle with the county, which means this case is on track to go to trial in the near future.
Why is Bryant following this case? And what could come next? Here’s everything we know about his lawsuit.
How did Kobe and Gianna Bryant die?
Kobe, Gianna and seven others suffered “immediate fatal injuries” on Jan. 26, 2020 when the helicopter carrying them to an AAU basketball game crashed into a hill in Southern California, according to office autopsies. Los Angeles County Coroner. Reports stated that all passengers “almost certainly” died instantly due to blunt force trauma.
Ara Zobayan, the helicopter pilot, had no alcohol or drugs in his system. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) determined that pilot error caused the crash, as Zobayan “disregarded his training, violated flight rules by flying in conditions where he could not see, and failed to take alternative action.” .
Who were the victims of the helicopter crash?
Here are the nine people who died in the helicopter crash on January 26, 2020:
- Kobe Bryant
- Gianna Bryant
- John Altobelli
- Keri Altobelli
- Alyssa Altobelli
- Sarah Chester
- Cristina Mauser
- Ara Zobayan
What to know about Vanessa Bryant’s lawsuit
Bryant is seeking damages for “negligence, invasion of privacy, and intentional infliction of emotional distress” after first responders allegedly took and shared photos of human remains at the crash site.
“The emotional distress means that not only do I have to mourn the loss of my husband and son, but for the rest of my life I will have to fear that these photographs of my husband and son will be leaked,” Bryant said. he said as part of his Oct. 12 statement (via The New York Times). “And I don’t want myself or my daughters to have to see her remains in that matter. I also don’t think it’s right that the pictures were taken in the first place because it’s hard enough that she has to experience this pain and loss.
“But now living the rest of my life having to fear those photographs coming to the surface is something I have to deal with every day.”
Bryant’s attorneys say photos of Kobe and Gianna’s bodies were spread on at least 28 Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department devices, as well as the devices of a dozen firefighters, according to the Los Angeles Times. They also say that the people who owned the photos “deleted them, reset their phones, or swapped them out for new phones,” making it impossible to know how many other people may have seen them.
The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department has not denied that the photos were taken and deleted, but county attorneys have argued that Bryant cannot be in emotional distress because he has not seen the photos and they were not shared publicly. They pushed for an independent medical examination of Bryant to determine if the distress was caused by county employees sharing photos or by the crash itself and the deaths of Kobe and Gianna. Bryant’s attorneys responded by calling the tests “cruel,” according to The New York Times.
“When public servants violate the privacy and constitutional rights of the citizens they are sworn to protect and serve, victims must go through a challenge to seek justice,” Bryant’s attorneys said.
Bryant was not required to submit an evaluation, but was ordered to turn over documents related to her treatment with a therapist dating back to 2017.
“The county continues to feel nothing but the deepest sympathy for the enormous pain Ms. Bryant suffered as a result of the tragic helicopter crash,” Los Angeles County outside counsel Skip Miller told E! News. “However, our request for access to his medical records is a standard request in lawsuits where a plaintiff demands millions of dollars for emotional distress claims. I have an obligation to take this step to defend the county.”
Vanessa Bryant’s statement
In his statement, Bryant recounted the events of January 26, 2020, the day of the helicopter crash. He also explained why he filed the lawsuit against Los Angeles County.
— On how he found out about the accident: “[A family assistant] He told me that there was an accident and that there were five survivors. And I asked if Gianna and Kobe were okay. And she said she wasn’t sure. she didn’t know… I tried to call my husband. … I tried to communicate with my mom. As soon as I got on the phone with my mom, I was holding my phone, because obviously I was trying to call my husband back, and all these notifications started popping up on my phone, saying RIP Kobe. RIP Kobe. RIP Kobe.”
— On his conversation with Sheriff Alex Villanueva, who confirmed the deaths of Kobe and Gianna: “Sheriff Villanueva tells me what happened. And he says to me, ‘Is there anything I can do for you?’ And I said, ‘If you can’t bring my husband and baby, please make sure no one takes pictures of them. Please secure the area.’ And he said, ‘I will.’ I said, ‘No, I need you to call right now and I need you to make sure you secure the area.’ So he apologized. He came back and said, ‘Everything is fine. The area is safe. There’s an umbrella over the area.'”
— Regarding the recovery of elements from the accident site: “I have my husband and daughter’s clothes in my possession. And I can tell that they…suffered a lot. And if their clothes represent the condition of their bodies, I can’t imagine how anyone could be so callous and have no regard for them.” them or our friends, and just sharing the images like they are animals on the street. We’re not talking, I really don’t want to go into details. I can only say that their clothes represent a lot… I had to retrieve all of their items because I know they people are sick and would like to take photos of them and share them. So I wanted to make sure I got as much back as I could.”
— About what you are looking for with this request: “I want responsibility… I don’t want this to happen to anyone else. I don’t think it’s right… I don’t think it’s right that I have to deal with this; that my kids have to deal with this when they grow up and realize of what happened, that our friends have to deal with this. I don’t think it’s fair that I’m here today having to fight for accountability. Because no one should ever have to endure this kind of pain and fear from members of their family.The images being released, this is not right…I just don’t understand how someone can have no regard for life and compassion, and instead choose to use that opportunity to photograph lifeless and defenseless individuals for their own sick fun.”
Will Vanessa Bryant’s case go to trial?
Los Angeles County attorneys requested that Bryant’s lawsuit be dismissed in a November filing, but US District Court Judge John F. Walter denied that request in early January. Walter ruled that there are “genuine issues of material fact for the trial,” according to CNN.
“We respectfully disagree with the court’s ruling,” Miller said in a statement. “The fact is that the county did not cause Ms. Bryant’s loss and, as promised on the day of the accident, none of the county’s crash site photos were released publicly.”
The trial could start as early as next month. Bryant is seeking compensatory and punitive damages.
Asked during deposition if he was seeking money in this lawsuit, Bryant responded, “That would be up to the jury. Not me, I’m not asking for a dollar amount.”