Kobe Bryant Crash Photos Verdict Raises Coverage Questions

Law360 Insurance Authority

A California federal jury's $31 million verdict in favor of the families of victims of a 2020 helicopter crash that killed Kobe Bryant and eight others raises questions about the types of coverage Los Angeles County has, what policies can be implicated and how much the county will pay, experts say. 

The amount of the Aug. 24 verdict in favor of Vanessa Bryant, Kobe Bryant's widow, and Chris Chester, who lost his wife and daughter, will likely exceed any level of self-insurance Los Angeles County, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department and the Los Angeles County Fire Department have, experts say. Vanessa Bryant and Chester accused the Los Angeles government entities of violating their civil rights by sharing photos of the scene of the crash. 

Benjamin Tievsky of Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP told Law360 that while it is likely that Los Angeles County and its sheriff's and fire departments have coverage, "there may be challenges created by the allegations in this case that the [insurers] will seek to exploit as potentially barring coverage." 

Tievsky, who represents policyholders, said insurers could cherry-pick certain allegations in Vanessa Bryant and Chester's suit in order to attempt to evade coverage. Specifically, he pointed out that the plaintiffs alleged that the sheriff's and fire departments knew that improper disclosure of crime scene photos, especially those involving celebrities, was a long-standing problem. 

Daniel Healy of Anderson Kill PC told Law360 that the verdict raises some interesting insurance coverage questions about what kinds and amounts of coverage exist beyond the county's self-insurance. He said that in the past, municipalities carried less insurance coverage due to protection from sovereign immunity. 

"That isn't the case anymore," he said. "A lot of municipalities, especially more recently, are making sure that they have full and robust insurance programs in place." He added that aside from possible coverage under commercial general liability policies, a claim could arise under an errors and omissions policy if a municipality has one.


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