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Vanessa Bryant’s lawsuit against Los Angeles County over photos taken at the helicopter crash site where her husband, Kobe Bryant, was killed is heading to trial in February, a federal judge ruled on Wednesday.
Rejecting a bid to dismiss the case, U.S. District Judge Jon F. Walter found that “there are genuine issues of material fact for trial.” He did not weigh in on those issues, concluding it’s not his role to “weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter.”
Bryant brought the lawsuit after Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies took and shared grisly photos of the scene where her husband and daughter, along with seven others, died in January 2020.
The civil case would have been over had the judge ruled in favor of the county on its motion for summary judgment.
“This has always been about accountability,” said Luis Li, a partner at Wilson Sonsini representing Bryant. “We look forward to presenting the facts to a jury.”
Skip Miller, an outside lawyer for the county, said in a statement that “the County did its job and looks forward to showing that at trial.”
“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,” he said.
Bryant sued the county for invasion of privacy and negligence after it was revealed that a sheriff’s deputy shared gruesome photos taken at the scene of the crash site.
The county’s legal team pushed back that Bryant’s lawsuit is based on “hypothetical harm” since the photos “have never been in the media, on the Internet, or otherwise publicly disseminated.”
“Plaintiff testified that this case is about her ‘having to fear those photographs surfacing,'” lawyers for the county wrote. “But a preemptive, speculative lawsuit about what ‘may’ or ‘could’ happen, as Plaintiff testified, fails as a matter of law.”
In a motion opposing summary judgment, Bryant’s attorneys argued that close-up photos were shared with at least 28 sheriff’s deputies and a dozen firefighters. They alleged that there’s no way to know the extent to which the images spread because sheriff’s deputies deleted evidence that destroyed the forensic record, prompting one commander to ask, “Are we violating laws?”
“There is ample evidence to support a jury finding that this conduct resulted from the County’s deliberate indifference to a well-known risk that it would occur,” the filing reads.
The county has acknowledged that a sheriff’s deputy and fire captain shared the photos with their colleagues but has maintained that there’s no wrongdoing because they were never publicly disseminated.
In 2020, the California State Legislature passed a law barring first responders from snapping unauthorized photos of deceased people at the scene of an accident.
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