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Vanessa Bryant's lawyer, during closing arguments on Tuesday, implored the jury in the Kobe Bryant crash photos lawsuit against Los Angeles County to award her and a co-plaintiff millions of dollars in damages for emotional distress.
The lawsuit claims that emergency personnel -- sheriff's deputies and fire personnel -- snapped and shared graphic photos taken from the helicopter crash site that killed the NBA legend, the couple's 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, and seven others.
Craig Lavoie addressed the nine-member jury Tuesday in Los Angeles federal court and said Vanessa and family friend Christopher Chester -- a co-plaintiff who lost his wife and daughter in the crash -- will have to live in fear that one day those photos will surface in public or online and cause irreparable harm.
"Either the photos will surface and their worst fears will have been realized or they will live in fear that day will come," Lavoie said via Bloomberg.
Vanessa's attorney also evoked what would have been Kobe's 44th birthday and asked the jury for "justice and accountability on his behalf."
According to the news outlet, Chester's attorney, Jerome Jackson, proposed that the jury award each plaintiff $2.5 million for their suffering over the last two years, and as much as $1 million a year for the rest of their lives. Going by those numbers, Jackson said Chester, 48, should get $30 million and Vanessa, 40, should get $40 million in future damages.
Attorneys representing Los Angeles County will offer rebuttals on Wednesday on what will be the 11th day of the trial. According to multiple reports, a sheriff's deputy admitted to sharing the gruesome photos with another sheriff's deputy while they played Call of Duty. Another deputy also admitted showing a bartender the photos, and a firefighter also showed photos taken on his phone to a group attending an awards ceremony one month after the helicopter crash.
The start of closing arguments came four days after Vanessa took the witness stand and emotionally revealed that, to this day, she still experiences panic attacks and anxiety over the possibility of seeing the photos from the devastating January 2020 helicopter crash. She recalled being at home breastfeeding her then 7-month-old daughter, Capri, when she was alerted to a Los Angeles Times report about sheriff's deputies sharing the photos.
In May 2020, Vanessa filed a claim against the L.A. County Sheriff's Department for sharing private photos of the crash scene in Calabasas, California. The following September, she filed a lawsuit which seeks unspecified damages, including punitive damages, for negligence, invasion of privacy as well as intentional infliction of emotional distress. The lawsuit accuses eight sheriff's deputies of taking cell phone photos of the bodies of her late husband and late daughter for their personal use.
According to Bloomberg, many of the individuals who snapped and shared the pictures have since erased the photos or got rid of the phones, which makes it nearly impossible to determine how widely the photos were shared. The news outlet also reported that Jackson, Chester's attorney, told the jury he got a voice message from a woman last week claiming she saw or knew where the photos from the scene were, and that a link was available and the person would share them for free.
Earlier in the trial, Vanessa was so overcome with emotion during a witness testimony that she tearfully exited the courtroom after the witness was asked if he had seen any apparent images of Gianna's body. Vanessa cried out and stood up, covered her face and left the courtroom. She did not return for the remainder of the testimony.
Legal expert Julie Rendelman, who is not involved in the Kobe Bryant crash photos lawsuit, tells ET that Vanessa's lawyers asking witnesses to tell the jury in graphic detail about what they saw in the photos is necessary, however painful.
"So, there's several reasons why Vanessa Bryant's lawyers want to get out just how gruesome these photos are," she explained. "First of all, the county wants the jury to believe that the reasons these photos were taken was because they were required to be taken. So, the question becomes, 'Well, were they really required to zoom up close to the remains of each of the individuals, including Kobe Bryant and his child?' And the answer may be, 'Well, that might not be what they were required to do.'"
"The second reason is ... the more gruesome these photos are the more emotionally distressing it is to Vanessa Bryant and her family to know that individuals that have absolutely nothing to do and no right to view these photos had the opportunity to do so," she added.
L.A. county lawyer Mira Hashmall insisted that the county did not violate the Bryant family’s constitutional rights by publicly spreading unauthorized photos.
"They’re not online. They’re not in the media. They’ve never even been seen by the plaintiffs themselves,” she said, adding, "That is not an accident. That is a function of how diligent [the department leaders] were."
Rendelman says, not so fast.
"The county is saying the reason those photos were taken was because it was for a legitimate investigation," she says. "Vanessa Bryant's team is saying, no these were taken because people wanted almost a prize; wanted to be the one who saw what happened to her loved ones and then were able to say they had it, and potentially show them to other people."
The fact that a bartender was able to describe the photos in graphic detail may not bode well for the county.
"I'm confident that a bartender was not one of the people that was supposed to see those photos," Rendelman said. "Now, obviously, if they only showed it to one person, versus sending it out into social media there's a difference in terms of potentially what the damages could be, but either way, it's still a form of dissemination that arguably is not acceptable."
"Keep in mind, dissemination does not require someone to actually email or text or send those photos in some fashion," she added. "All it requires is showing someone a photo of something that they're not entitled to see. That's what dissemination is."
For more on the ongoing lawsuit, see the video below.