Vanessa Bryant Settles Helicopter Crash Photos Lawsuit for $28.85 Million
Los Angeles County agreed to pay Vanessa Bryant and three of her daughters nearly $30 million to settle a lawsuit and potential claims over the sharing of graphic photos of the January 2020 helicopter crash that killed Bryant’s husband, the basketball star Kobe Bryant, and one of their daughters, according to a court filing on Tuesday. The settlement includes $15 million a jury awarded Vanessa Bryant in August, with additional funds to settle potential claims from her daughters.
“Today marks the successful culmination of Mrs. Bryant’s courageous battle to hold accountable those who engaged in this grotesque conduct,” Luis Li, Bryant’s lawyer, said 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.”
On Jan. 26, 2020, Kobe Bryant, 41, and his daughter Gianna Bryant, 13, were in a helicopter with seven other people when it crashed in foggy conditions outside Los Angeles, killing all on board. Soon after, Vanessa Bryant learned that some employees of the county’s fire and sheriff’s departments had shared graphic photos of human remains from the crash. She sued for negligence and invasion of privacy in September 2020 and won at trial in August, providing a rare and expensive public admonition of some of Los Angeles’ most powerful institutions.
The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors agreed to pay Bryant’s family $28.85 million to settle Bryant’s lawsuit and potential future claims by Bryant and her daughters: Natalia, 20, Bianka, 6, and Capri, 3. The jury in August awarded Bryant $16 million, which was later reduced by $1 million because of a clerical error.
Kobe Bryant, who starred for the Los Angeles Lakers for 20 years before retiring in 2016, was on his way to coach Gianna’s basketball team at his Mamba Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks, Calif., when they boarded the helicopter on the day of the crash. The pilot, Ara Zobayan, became disoriented in the clouds and crashed into a hill near Calabasas, Calif., killing all nine people on board.
In a deposition for her lawsuit, Vanessa Bryant said Rob Pelinka, the Lakers’ general manager and Kobe Bryant’s former agent, drove her later that morning to a sheriff’s station in Malibu, near the crash scene.
Alex Villanueva, who was the Los Angeles County sheriff at the time, confirmed the deaths and asked Bryant if he could do anything for her, she said.
“And I said: ‘If you can’t bring my husband and baby back, please make sure that no one takes photographs of them. Please secure the area,’” Bryant said during the deposition. “And he said: ‘I will.’ And I said: ‘No, I need you to get on the phone right now and I need you to make sure you secure the area.’”
Bryant testified at trial that she learned from a Los Angeles Times report that a Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy had showed photos of the crash at a bar. The existence of the photos, Bryant said, compounded the tragedy.
“I live in fear of my daughters being on social media and these popping up,” Bryant testified.
The pictures were primarily shared between employees of the Los Angeles County sheriff’s and fire departments.
Lawyers for the county acknowledged that the photos were taken and shared, but argued that an immediate order to delete them kept them from being publicly disseminated.
At the trial, the jury also awarded $15 million to Chris Chester, who joined the suit because his wife Sarah, 45, and daughter, Payton, 13, were killed in the crash. Los Angeles County agreed to pay the Chester family an additional $4.95 million to resolve any future claims.
Two other families separately settled with the county over the photos for $1.25 million each in October 2021.
Li previously said that Bryant would donate the proceeds from the lawsuit to her Mamba & Mambacita Sports Foundation, which honors Kobe and Gianna Bryant.