Los Angeles County wants Vanessa Bryant, widow of NBA star Kobe Bryant, to submit to a psychiatric evaluation in connection with her ongoing lawsuit against the county.
Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, and seven others were killed in a helicopter crash in January 2020. The other victims are 14-year-old Alyssa Altobelli; her mother Keri Altobelli; Alyssa’s father John Altobelli, a college baseball coach; 13-year-old Payton Chester; her mother Sarah Chester; Christina Mauser, a basketball coach at Harbor Day School; and pilot Ara Zobayan.
First responders at the scene of the crash took photographs and allegedly leaked graphic images of the crash online—including by one deputy allegedly trying to “impress a woman at a bar.”
The families of the crash victims filed a federal lawsuit against L.A. County officials in the months following the crash, asserting that their civil and privacy rights were violated and requesting undisclosed damages for the emotional distress they suffered.
On Friday, the county requested that the court order Vanessa Bryant and the other plaintiffs to submit to an independent psychiatric evaluation as part of the discovery process for the case. Among the plaintiffs are three children, ages 13, 10, and 5.
The county argues in its motion to compel medical examination: “Plaintiffs have put their mental condition in controversy by asserting claims for ongoing, severe emotional distress, anxiety and depression.” Psychiatric evaluations are, therefore, “not only relevant, but necessary for the County to mount its defense to these claims and to evaluate the existence, extent and nature of Plaintiffs’ alleged emotional injuries,” the motion states.
In court documents, the plaintiffs say that in making the request, the county “has resorted to scorched earth discovery tactics designed to bully Plaintiffs into abandoning their pursuit of accountability.” “It does not take an expert—and it certainly does not take an involuntary eight-hour psychiatric examination,” plaintiffs argue, “for a jury to assess the nature and extent of the emotional distress caused by Defendants’ misconduct.” The resulting emotional distress, plaintiffs say, “are the feelings that any reasonable person would experience if the public officials entrusted to protect the dignity of their deceased family members snapped graphic photos of their loved ones’ remains, used the photos for cocktail-hour entertainment, and failed to contain and secure the photos.”
The phrase “cocktail-hour entertainment” is no rhetorical flourish. In defense to the lawsuit’s allegations, the county argues that accident site photos were shown only to government personnel and one bartender, and that “None of the photos were sent to anyone outside the County.”
The county argues that, “while Plaintiffs have undoubtedly suffered severe distress and trauma from the crash and resulting loss of their loved ones, their distress was not caused by Defendants or any accident site photos that were never publicly disseminated.” The county argues that psychiatric evaluations of the plaintiffs are necessary to ascertain whether any emotional distress plaintiffs are suffering is the result of photographs being shared, or rather, simply of the tragic plane crash itself.
The county goes one step farther than simply requesting that the court compel Vanessa Bryant and others to submit to examination. It further argues that Bryant’s refusal to submit voluntarily to such an examination is “not in good faith and warrants sanctions.”
Skip Miller, counsel for the County and a partner in Miller Barondess, LLP provided the following statement to Law&Crime Monday via email:
“We have great sympathy for Vanessa Bryant’s loss. It’s horrific, the worst imaginable. But she’s sued the County for something that didn’t happen. There’s been no public disclosure of crash site photos, and there won’t be any. So we see this case as a money grab and are doing what’s necessary to protect our client and the public treasury.”
Counsel for the plaintiffs did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Read the court documents below:
[image via Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images]
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