Kobe Bryant Widow Therapy Records Fair Game in Crash Photo Suit

Nov. 16, 2021, 3:57 PM

Kobe Bryant’s widow and her therapist must produce documents related to her treatment going back five years in her lawsuit against Los Angeles County seeking damages for emotional distress stemming from sheriff’s deputies taking photographs of the helicopter crash site where her husband and daughter were killed.

Vanessa Bryant “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,” Magistrate Judge Charles F. Eick of the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California ruled Monday.

The records are relevant because “the only basis for any monetary recovery in this action would be plaintiff’s allegedly profound emotional distress, to the extent defendants’ photograph-related actions or inactions proximately caused such distress,” Eick said.

Eick, however, narrowed the scope of the county’s document request from 12 years of records to less than five years—from Jan. 1, 2017, to the present—"in the interests of proportionality.”

The county’s purpose in seeking the documents is “neither abusive nor harassing,” and Bryant’s therapist failed to show that the requests, “as narrowed, are unduly burdensome,” Eick said.

Eick on Nov. 1 denied the county’s request for an order that Bryant undergo a psychological evaluation, finding it untimely.

The complaint alleges that several sheriff’s deputies at the crash site used their cell phones to take pictures of the crash victims “for their own personal gratification.”

The deputies then displayed the images to their colleagues, and one deputy shared “photos of the victims to try to impress a woman at a bar,” the complaint alleges. A bartender overheard the interaction and filed a written complaint with the sheriff’s department, according to the complaint.

The complaint alleges that Sheriff Alex Villanueva “did not inform the families, initiate an investigation, or inspect the deputies’ phones to determine whether and how the photos had been shared. He instead directed a cover-up, summoning the deputies to the Lost Hills station and telling them that, if they deleted the photos, they would face no discipline.”

Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna, and seven other people were killed in the Jan. 26, 2020, accident when a Sikorsky S-76B helicopter, flying in cloudy conditions, crashed into a hillside near Calabasas, Calif.

Munger Tolles & Olson LLP represents Bryant. Miller Barondess LLP represents the county.

The case is Bryant v. County of Los Angeles, C.D. Cal., No. 20-cv-09582, 11/15/21.

To contact the reporter on this story: Peter Hayes in Washington at PHayes@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rob Tricchinelli at rtricchinelli@bloomberglaw.com; Patrick L. Gregory at pgregory@bloomberglaw.com

To read more articles log in.

Learn more about a Bloomberg Law subscription.