Despite the County’s insistence that none of its employees possess any more photographs of the crash site, a judge determined that there are enough “material facts” for the case to move to trial.
A federal judge has denied Los Angeles County’s request to dismiss a lawsuit filed by Vanessa Bryant relating to photographs taken at the scene of her late husband Kobe Bryant’s helicopter crash in January 2020.
According to CNN, Kobe Bryant—along with his daughter, Gianna, and seven other people—were killed when their helicopter crashed into a hillside near Calabasas, California. Bryant and the other passengers were traveling to a girls’ basketball game at Bryant’s Mamba Sports Academy in Newbury Park. However, the helicopter’s pilot became disoriented by fog and accidentally descended into a mountain range.
In her lawsuit, Vanessa Bryant claims that first responders—including fire and sheriff’s department employees—took photographs of the crash scene, and then shared the pictures in non-work-related settings.
In one incident, detailed on CNN’s Edition, a sheriff’s deputy “boasted that he had worked at the scene of the accident where Kobe Bryant had died.” He then showed pictures of the crash site to a bartender and bar patron; the bartender, says CNN, then told other customers that he had seen the photographs and “described specific characteristics of Mr. Bryant’s remains.”
One of the customers, says the lawsuit, found the situation “very, very disturbing” and emailed the sheriff’s department to complain.
Bryant is seeking undisclosed damages for civil rights violations, negligence, emotional distress, and violation of privacy.
However, as LegalReader.com has reported before, Los Angeles County filed a motion to dismiss. In its latest petition, county attorneys said that authorities had already removed the images from the concerned employees’ phones, and that a third-party forensics agency confirmed there were no traces of the photographs in workers’ devices.
“Plaintiff’s fear is [not] reasonable,” the County wrote in its motion to dismiss.
“The photos are gone and, according to Kroll and Plaintiff’s own experts, cannot be recovered,” it added. “There is therefore nothing for the Plaintiff to fear.”
However, on Wednesday, U.S. District Court Judge John F. Walter found that there remain “genuine issues of material facts for trial.”
Shortly after Walter’s ruling, Skip Miller—an outside attorney for Los Angeles County—said the local government disagrees with the finding.
“We respectfully disagree with the court’s ruling,” Miller said. “The fact remains that the County did not cause Ms. Bryant’s loss and, as was promised on the day of the crash, none of the County’s accident site photos were ever publicly disseminated.”
Bryant’s lawyers, however, say they look forward to taking the case to trial.
“We look forward to presenting the facts to a jury,” attorney Luis Li told CNN.
The trial is expected to begin within the next one to two months.