More than two years have passed since the tragic helicopter crash that killed basketball player Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna Bryant, and all others on board the January 26, 2020 flight. Since that time, several cases related to the crash have been working their way through the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, including two brought by Vanessa Bryant, the widow of Kobe Bryant and mother of Gianna Bryant. One case, brought by Vanessa Bryant against the owners of the helicopter and the estate of the helicopter’s pilot, was settled by the parties and voluntarily dismissed with prejudice on December 14, 2021. The other case was brought by Vanessa Bryant against the County of Los Angeles and others, alleging severe and continuing emotional distress caused by Los Angeles County employees who allegedly took and disseminated graphic photographs of the crash site using their personal smartphones. That case, Vanessa Bryant v. County of Los Angeles, et al., No. CV 20-9582, is headed for trial following U.S. District Judge John F. Walter’s denial of the County’s motion for summary judgment on January 5, 2022. The trial is scheduled to begin on July 26, 2022.
One of the most contentious issues we can expect at trial is proximate causation. It is not disputed that Vanessa Bryant has suffered significant emotional injury. Nonetheless, the County is poised to argue that Vanessa Bryant’s emotional distress was not proximately caused by the alleged tortious acts of the County. One way the County may attempt to do so is by using Vanessa Bryant’s mental health records to show that it was the effects of the helicopter crash itself, and not the subsequent acts of County employees, that caused her emotional distress.