Vanessa Bryant Friday urged a Los Angeles federal judge to consolidate for trial her lawsuit over photos taken at the scene of the helicopter crash that killed her husband, Kobe Bryant, and their daughter, and a similar suit brought by an Orange County man who lost his wife and daughter in the accident.
U.S. District Judge John Walter recently said he was considering combining the two cases against Los Angeles County for trial next month. Both the Basketball Hall of Fame member’s widow and Chris Chester made similar arguments — both contend they suffered emotional distress when county workers allegedly snapped and shared photos of the crash scene. Among the nine victims were Chester’s wife, Sarah, and 13-year-old daughter, Payton.
In new court papers, Bryant urged Walter to consolidate the suits because “a single trial would promote efficiency, reduce costs for all involved and reduce the risk of inconsistent verdicts.”
The county strongly opposes such a move, arguing that a single trial would prejudice and confuse the jury because evidence in one case would likely spill over into the other. The defendants also argue that allowing Bryant and Chester to present evidence of their emotional distress in a consolidated trial will “magnify and bolster” both plaintiffs’ damages.
The plaintiffs allege that responding personnel from the county sheriff’s and fire departments took graphic close-up photos of human remains strewn across the Calabasas crash site on Jan. 26, 2020, then shared those photos within and beyond their departments.
“At least 11 (sheriff’s) personnel and a dozen firefighters shared the photos within 24 hours of the crash,” Bryant’s attorneys wrote. “In the following weeks, one (sheriff’s) deputy flaunted photos of remains at a bar, another texted photos to a group of video game buddies, and (county fire) personnel displayed photos at an awards gala.”
Walter said he envisioned each case taking about seven days to try in the downtown Los Angeles federal courthouse.
Vanessa Bryant sued the county in September 2020, accusing sheriff’s and fire department personnel of improperly taking and handling photos of human remains from the crash that killed her husband and their 13-year-old daughter, Gianna.
County attorneys say it will be proven to a jury that no photos taken by personnel at the scene of the hillside crash were ever shared with the public.
The judge indicated that the trial — or trials — would be broken up into two phases.
In the first phase, a federal cause of action in which plaintiffs allege that county personnel’s taking and dissemination of photos violated their constitutional rights to control the remains and death images of their deceased loved ones will be litigated. State law claims will be addressed in the second phase.