December 6, 2021

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Vanessa Bryant must turn over therapy records in Kobe crash case, judge rules – Los Angeles Times

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Vanessa Bryant must turn over her therapy records to Los Angeles County in her lawsuit claiming she suffered severe emotional distress after learning that deputies and firefighters had shared images of a helicopter crash scene where her husband, Kobe Bryant, and daughter died.

U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge Charles Eick granted a request by county lawyers to review the records. But the judge limited the records to the years since 2017, not 2010 as the lawyers had sought.

“Plaintiff has waived her psychotherapist-patient privilege by placing into controversy the reportedly extraordinary, continuing emotional distress allegedly resulting from Defendants’ photograph-related actions or inactions,” the judge wrote of the Jan. 26, 2020, crash that killed Kobe and Gianna Bryant and seven others.

In her deposition, Vanessa Bryant testified that because of the photos she has suffered constant fear and anxiety and has had trouble sleeping. She is suing for invasion of privacy, asking for damages for emotional distress.

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County lawyers led by outside counsel Skip Miller sought the therapy records to determine Bryant’s mental state. They argue that the deaths themselves caused her distress. The same judge rejected a previous effort by the county to require her to undergo a mental health evaluation.

Her lawyers argued that the effort to get her therapy records was a further invasion of her privacy.

“The County continues to have nothing but the deepest sympathy for the enormous grief Ms. Bryant suffered as a result of the tragic helicopter accident. We are gratified that the Court has granted our motion for access to her medical records, as it is a standard request in lawsuits where a plaintiff demands millions of dollars for claims of emotional distress,” Miller said in a statement Monday.

Miller contends that Vanessa Bryant could not be suffering severe distress from crash photos she has never seen and that were never shared publicly because L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villaneuva had ordered them deleted.

The photos were shared internally and by one deputy who displayed his cellphone in a Norwalk bar and by a fire captain who showed the images on his phone during an award shows cocktail hour.

Villaneuva ordered all deputies with images of the crash to delete them immediately after learning of a Jan. 29 citizen complaint about the bar incident.

A Los Angeles Times investigation in March revealed that deputies had shared the grim images of the scene. Bryant’s attorneys have argued that because county agencies did not order their employees to preserve their phones, Bryant was deprived of the ability to learn whom the images were shared with before the devices were wiped clean.

Miller has argued that by ordering the immediate deletion of the images, Villanueva was seeking to keep a promise he made to Vanessa Bryant that the photos would not be released

In her recent deposition in the case, Bryant recalled that she told Villanueva: “If you can’t bring my husband and baby back, please make sure no one takes photographs of them. Please secure the area.”

The case is scheduled for trial next February. The county has already settled lawsuits by Matthew Mauser for $1.25 million and siblings J.J. Altobelli and Alexis Altobelli for another $1.25 million. Mauser’s wife, Christine, and the Altobellis’ mother, father and younger sister — Keri, John and Alyssa — died in the crash.

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