LA County Approves $2.5M to Settle Lawsuits Over Photos Leaked From Kobe Bryant Crash

By City News Service
City News Service
City News Service
November 2, 2021 Updated: November 2, 2021

LOS ANGELES—The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved on Nov. 2 a $2.5 million settlement for two families suing the county over the unauthorized sharing of photos of the Kobe Bryant helicopter crash, which also killed their loved ones.

Under the proposed settlement, still subject to court approval, Matthew Mauser stands to receive $1.25 million, and siblings J.J. Altobelli and Alexis Altobelli would share another $1.25 million.

Mauser’s wife, Christine, and the Altobellis’ mother, father, and younger sister—Keri, John, and Alyssa—died in the Jan. 26, 2020, crash that also killed Bryant, his daughter Gianna, and three others.

After a Los Angeles Times investigation revealed that LA County sheriff’s deputies and firefighters took and shared crash scene photos for purposes outside law enforcement, the Altobellis and Matthew Mauser filed separate federal lawsuits against the county alleging they suffered emotional distress.

“We believe these proposed settlements of $1.25 million are reasonable and fair to all concerned,” attorney Skip Miller of Miller Barondess—who represented the county—told The Los Angeles Times.

“We are pleased that the Mauser and Altobelli families, who as private citizens suffered the same grief and loss as others, will be able to move forward after these settlements, which are subject to final approval by the Board of Supervisors. We also hope that eventually the other families will be able to do the same.”

Bryant’s widow Vanessa sued Los Angeles County last year, alleging that she and her family suffered severe emotional distress after discovering that sheriff’s deputies snapped and shared gruesome photos of the helicopter crash scene.

The legal fight between Vanessa Bryant and the county intensified when county lawyers sought to have Bryant undergo a psychiatric examination in advance of the trial scheduled for February 2022.

Lawyers argued in court papers that she cannot have severe distress from crash photos she and the public have never seen.

On Monday, however, U.S. Magistrate Judge Charles Eick denied the county’s motion seeking the exam, deeming the request “untimely.”

He denied the motion “without prejudice,” meaning county attorneys could make the request again depending on how the case proceeds.

Bryant won a separate legal victory in the case last month when LA County Sheriff Alex Villanueva and Fire Chief Daryl Osby were ordered to be deposed in the case.

Eick said Villanueva and Osby appear to have “unique first-hand, non-repetitive knowledge” relative to the case. The judge limited each deposition to four hours.

The family of Sarah Chester and her 13-year-old daughter Payton, who also died in the crash, filed their own suit against the county in December, saying they were humiliated and distraught when they realized that personnel trusted to secure the site had photographed remains. That family is not part of the settlement approved Tuesday.

The county has already spent almost $1.3 million in fees and legal costs in the two cases, according to a board letter.

A report from the county counsel recommended the settlement to “avoid further litigation costs.”

The five-member board approved the payment without comment.