It appears to be a triumph of “ick” over both law and ethics.
Kobe Bryant’s widow, Vanessa, was awarded $16 million as her part of a $31 million jury verdict Wednesday against Los Angeles County. Deputies and firefighters had shared gruesome photos of the NBA star; their 13-year-old daughter, Gianna; and other victims killed in a 2020 helicopter crash; the family of those other victims received the rest of $31 million. The nine jurors unanimously agreed with Vanessa Bryant and her attorneys’ argument that the photos invaded her privacy and caused emotional distress.
I’m sure they caused emotional distress. But how can an event that occurs in public be declared sufficiently private to have the protection of the right to privacy? If a journalist had taken the photos and published them, or shared them on a news website, presumably there would be no way Bryant’s widow would have a cause of action. I don’t see how a bystander with a cell phone could be blocked or sued either. These pictures were shared mostly among employees of the Los Angeles County sheriff’s and fire departments.They also were seen by some of their spouses and in one case by a bartender at a bar where a deputy was drinking. Well not to be unsympathetic, but so what? How does the right to privacy make reality a personal property protected by the law? If the bloody crash occurred where a crowd of a hundred people could see it, how would the law black them from taking photos and showing them to friends?
This seems like a terrible, slippery slope precedent. It is particularly ominous because public relations considerations may keep Los Angeles Country from appealing it all the way to the Supreme Court. making the case even more dubious is that the photographs in question, as well as never having been published, have all been deleted. They couldn’t be admitted into evidence. Nobody knows exactly what the photos contained, why they were taken, why they were shared, and why they were deleted.
Maybe there is a decisive precedent, but I can’t find one so far. All of the accounts tell us how much Vanessa Bryant wept, but not one, including those in the Times, bother to examine the legal and constitutional issues and relevant cases. As usual, this is more incompetent journalism. Making readers feel for the plaintiff is more important than explaining what the hell is going on.
Sure, I agree the showing grisly pictures of a celebrity’s death is ghoulish behavior, but like a lot of bad behavior, we have a right to do it. If we don’t, then the law is censoring what we can see, talk about and share, even when it has occurred in public. As I see it, this isn’t a privacy case; it’s a First Amendment case, and protecting free speech is a higher societal priority than protecting the sensitivities of celebrity families.
I hope I’m missing something. What is it?