Los Angeles County is trying to force Vanessa Bryant to undergo a psychiatric evaluation for her lawsuit against first responders who leaked photos of the 2020 helicopter crash that killed her husband, former NBA superstar Kobe Bryant.
Bryant’s lawsuit asks for unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.
The county’s motion, filed in California Superior Court on Friday, is targeting the plaintiffs’ assertion that the leak was an intentional infliction of emotional distress. It requests that all of the plaintiffs undergo a psychiatric examination. Bryant, the lead plaintiff, is joined in her complaint by the crash victims’ surviving family members.
“Plaintiffs cannot claim that they are suffering from ongoing depression, anxiety and severe emotional distress and then balk at having to support their claims,” the county said in its motion. It called the medical exam “crucial” for the defense — and for a fair trial.
Bryant’s legal team criticized the motion, accusing the county of resorting to “scorched earth discovery tactics” meant to “bully” the plaintiffs. Bryant’s attorneys said the county’s request would be an “eight-hour involuntary psychiatric examination” forced not just on the adult plaintiffs, but also the juvenile plaintiffs — identified in court filings only by their initials — who range in age from 5 years old to teenagers. Bryant has three surviving daughters.
A judge is scheduled to rule on the county’s motion Nov. 5.
An attorney for Bryant declined to discuss the case on the record.
Skip Miller, counsel for L.A. County, said the defendants had sympathy for Bryant’s loss, describing it as “the worst imaginable.” But he contended that there has been no “public discourse” on the crash-site photos, which puts her claim in question.
“So we see this case as a money grab and are doing what’s necessary to defend our client,” Miller said in a statement to The Washington Post.
The filing is the latest development in the legal battle between Bryant and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department that began after at least eight sheriff’s deputies took unauthorized photos of the crash scene. They were widely circulated among law enforcement, deputies’ friends and family members, and some strangers.
Kobe Bryant was aboard a helicopter on Jan. 26, 2020, when it flew through cloudy conditions and crashed into a hillside near Calabasas, Calif., killing him and the eight others onboard. Several sheriff’s deputies who arrived at the scene “pulled out their cellphones and snapped photos of the dead children, parents and coaches,” according to Vanessa Bryant’s lawsuit, filed in September 2020.
Days after the crash, a bartender in Norwalk, Calif., filed a complaint with the sheriff’s department after overhearing a Los Angeles County sheriff’s trainee “bragging about how much he had been at the crash site,” as he allegedly tried to use the crash photos to impress a woman at the bar.
After the Los Angeles Times reported the photo leak, the sheriff’s department acknowledged that only the coroner and the National Transportation Safety Board workers investigating the crash should have taken crash-site images.
After an internal investigation, the Los Angeles County Fire Department moved to fire two employees and suspend a third after it found that the employees took crash-site photos and shared them with their wives and girlfriends, according to court filings and media reports. It was not clear whether they had been fired. Bryant’s lawsuit does not name the fire department as a co-defendant.
The case is scheduled to go to trial in February and is at least the fourth legal action to arise from the crash.
Bryant settled a wrongful-death suit with the helicopter operator and a claim from her mother, Sofia Urbieta Laine, who said she was not paid for years of work as a nanny and assistant to her daughter’s family, despite assurances from Kobe Bryant that she would be supported financially. A Los Angeles County fire captain filed a lawsuit saying the county retaliated against him by demoting him after the crash.
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