The previously announced $31 million combined jury award against Los Angeles County for Vanessa Bryant and her co-plaintiff in the helicopter crash site photos lawsuit should have been $30 million, a a judge determined Friday, based on a juror’s note delivered less than an hour after the highest number was read aloud in court Wednesday and reported around the world.
During a hearing in federal court on Friday, U.S. District Judge John Walter read from the filing that at 4:45 p.m. Wednesday, a juror told the courtroom deputy that there was an error in the verdict form regarding Vanessa Bryant, who was awarded a total of $16 million for past and future damages – including $2.5 million to be paid by the LA County Sheriff’s Department for past suffering.
According to a transcript of Friday’s proceedings provided to the City News Service, the courtroom deputy advised the juror to write a note explaining the alleged error. The juror then prepared a handwritten note which was filed in court under seal. In the note, the juror said Vanessa Bryant should receive $1.5 million from the sheriff’s department, not $2.5 million, for past damages.
The memo says it was the intention of the nine jurors that the two plaintiffs Vanessa Bryant and Chris Chester be awarded equally, the judge said.
Walter held a sealed hearing Thursday morning with an attorney to discuss the case and requested briefs in the afternoon.
“In her brief, plaintiff Vanessa Bryant states that she is willing to accept a verdict and/or modified judgment that reduces her sentence against the Sheriff’s Department by one million dollars to avoid any potential need for jury review. after they have already been released and potentially exposed to outside influences,” the judge said.
This reduces his total award to $15 million, the same amount taken from the county by jurors on Chester’s behalf.
Bryant’s attorney, Luis Li, told the court that his client “really feels it’s a fair outcome that she received the same amount as Mr. Chester. From the bottom of her heart, she feels it.”
The judge said that in light of the circumstances, recalling the released jury would not have been appropriate.
The judge instructed attorneys to meet, confer, prepare and file separate motions for Bryant and Chester by the end of the month.
At the end of the hour-plus hearing, Bryant’s attorney, Luis Li, said that in his 30 years of practice, he had never dealt with such a “sensitive issue” regarding the jurors.
The damages awarded to LA County were awarded to compensate for past and future mental anguish caused by the actions of county staff who took and shared cellphone photos taken at the scene of the January 2020 crash .
Both plaintiffs lost spouses and daughters in the crash. Bryant’s husband and daughter, Gianna, and Chester’s wife, Sarah, and 13-year-old daughter, Payton, died in the accident on a remote Calabasas hill.
Jurors in downtown Los Angeles delivered their verdict after about four and a half hours of deliberation on the 11th day of the trial. Vanessa Bryant cried when the verdict was announced and shortly after posted a photo of herself with Kobe and Gianna, with the caption: “All for you! I love you! JUSTICE for Kobe and Gigi!”
On Thursday, the widow announced her intention to donate the proceeds of her share of the judgment to a foundation named in memory of her husband and daughter. The non-profit Mamba and Mambacita Sports Foundation provides sports education to
underserved athletes. Kobe Bryant’s nickname was Black Mamba.
When calculating damages, the jury found that the Sheriff’s Department and the Los Angeles County Fire Department both violated Bryant and Chester’s constitutional rights to privacy of their deceased loved ones.
Mira Hashmall, a private attorney who represented the county in the case, released a statement after the verdict saying the attorneys “will discuss next steps with our client.”
“In the meantime, we hope the Bryant and Chester families continue to recover from their tragic loss,” Hashmall said.
While the jury held the sheriff’s department responsible for maintaining a practice of sharing photos taken at accident or crime scenes, the county fire department was not found to have a such custom.
The verdict came a day after what would have been Kobe Bryant’s 44th birthday, and it happened on “Mamba Day” in Los Angeles, which celebrates his life each year on August 24, or August 8-24, the two numbers he wore during his 20-year career with the Lakers.
A Chester attorney had asked the panel to compel the county to pay a total of $75 million split between the widow and Chester for the pain and suffering caused when the photos were taken and displayed to a bartender for no good reason, attendees at an awards ceremony. and sent by the sheriff’s deputy to a co-worker while they were playing a video game.
Hashmall argued during his summons on Wednesday that the photos have not surfaced in public since the two-and-a-half-year-old tragedy, proving they have been permanently deleted.
“This is a photo case, but there are no photos,” the attorney told jurors in federal court in Los Angeles. “There is one simple truth that cannot be ignored – there was no public broadcast.”
The department did not dispute that some photos were shared with a small number of deputies and firefighters. Defense attorneys argued that all footage taken by first responders was destroyed by order of the sheriff and fire chief, and no longer exists in any form. The photos never entered the public domain or appeared on the internet, the county insisted.
However, Bryant and Chester insisted they don’t think the footage won’t ever surface.
Chester, an Irvine financial adviser, said on the stand he was ‘incredulous at first. It never crossed my mind in my wildest imagination’ that MPs and firefighters would take and share photos of his wife Sarah and their daughter Payton.
“It was heartbreak on top of heartbreak,” he said. “I want justice and accountability.”
The nine-member jury included a nun, a television production worker, a student, a real estate investor, a pharmaceutical researcher and a restaurant host.
Along with relatives of Chester and Bryant, the crash killed 14-year-old Alyssa Altobelli; Keri Altobelli, 46; John Altobelli, 56; Christina Mauser, 38; and pilot Ara Zobayan, 50.
Two other families have settled separately with the county in the photos for $1.25 million each. All of the families of the victims have reached a settlement with the helicopter company over the crash, but those terms remain confidential.