On Wednesday, a federal judge rejected an effort by Los Angeles County lawyers to dismiss Vanessa Bryant‘s lawsuit over the handling of photos taken at the helicopter crash scene that killed her husband Kobe Bryant, daughter Gianna, and seven others.
Vanessa Bryant sued the county in 2020, alleging that she and her family suffered severe emotional distress from learning that the L.A. County sheriff’s deputies snapped and later shared gruesome images of the crash scene.
U.S. District Judge John F. Walter concluded, “there are factual issues of fact that are important to trial” and denied Los Angeles County’s motion to dismiss the case.
In a recent declaration, Vanessa Bryant said the allegations “caused me tremendous pain and stress.”
In a November dismissal motion, county attorneys argued that Bryant’s claim of emotional distress caused by the alleged sharing of cellphone photos is based on “hypothetical harm” and thus lacks standing because the images were never publicly circulated, and she never saw them.
Bryant’s attorney then asked Walter to deny the dismissal motion and allow the case to go forward.
In quotes taken from a court-ordered deposition, Sheriff Alex Villanueva said that taking and sharing such images was “wildly inappropriate” and “disgusting” and revealed efforts to “take away a trophy” from the scene of the deaths.
The 39-year-old expressed that she is infuriated “that people I trusted to protect the dignity of my husband and daughter abused their position to obtain souvenirs from their deaths, as though possessing pictures of their remains somehow makes them special. I imagine Kobe watching over what occurred at the crash scene, and I am overcome with anger and emotion,” according to the declaration.
In its dismissal motion, the county said it is “undisputed that the complained-of photos have never been in the media, on the internet, or otherwise publicly disseminated.” However, Bryant’s claim of having to fear that the photos surfacing does not constitute grounds for the complaint, county attorneys alleged.
In a recent statement to City News Service, outside counsel for Los Angeles County, Skip Miller expressed sympathy for Bryant while denying that any crash scene photos were circulated.
“While the county sympathizes with Ms. Bryant’s tragic loss, it did not cause the crash that claimed the lives of her husband and child,” he said.
The county maintains there’s no evidence that “death images” were shared within the sheriffs or fire departments. When allegations of improper photo sharing surfaced, “they took appropriate action. Every action was aimed at preventing harm, not causing it,” defense documents state.
The county also alleges that the plaintiff’s emotional distress resulted from the loss of family members, not the photos, which Bryant has never seen and only learned about from newspaper reports.
Bryant’s attorney continued to argue such alleged behavior resulting from the county’s “deliberate indifference” is more than enough reason for the judge to allow the suit to go before the jury.
A pretrial hearing is scheduled for February 4 in Los Angeles federal court, with a trial set for February 22.