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The county of Los Angeles is trying to force the widow of Kobe Bryant and other surviving family members of a fatal helicopter crash last year to submit to psychiatric examinations that could help the county prove a critical point in their legal dispute:
Did Vanessa Bryant and the others suffer emotional distress because photos of their dead relatives were shared by county fire and sheriff's department employees after the crash?
Or did their emotional distress stem only from the tragic crash itself?
The county contends it's the latter and is seeking a court order to compel these medical examinations as part its effort to defend itself from a lawsuit filed by Bryant last year after the NBA legend and their daughter died in that crash with seven others. Vanessa Bryant is suing the county for invasion of privacy and negligence, claiming county employees improperly shared photos of human remains from the crash site.
In a court filing Friday, the county noted that Bryant and other surviving family plaintiffs are suing the county for “tens of millions of dollars based solely on their claimed 'severe emotional distress.’ ” The county's position is that their distress was not caused by county employees or any accident site photos it says "were never publicly disseminated."
“Despite putting their mental condition front and center in this case, Plaintiffs refuse to submit to independent medical examinations (IMEs),” the county stated. “The County brings this motion to compel IMEs of the Plaintiffs, which are necessary to evaluate the existence, extent and nature of Plaintiffs’ alleged emotional injuries. Plaintiffs cannot claim that they are suffering from ongoing depression, anxiety and severe emotional distress and then balk at having to support their claims.”
Attorneys for Bryant and other plaintiffs families ripped the county in response, noting that it would force involuntary psychiatric exams on a group of surviving family members that includes “four teenagers, a 10-year-old child, and a 5-year-old kindergartener.” They are fighting the county’s request for this, leaving it up to a judge to decide in coming weeks as the pretrial fight over discovery evidence has intensified.
“Unable to defend the indefensible conduct of its employees who took and shared horrific photographs of Plaintiffs’ deceased loved ones. … the County has resorted to scorched-earth discovery tactics designed to bully Plaintiffs into abandoning their pursuit of accountability,” the plaintiffs’ attorneys stated. “After seeking intrusive discovery into everything from Plaintiffs’ privileged therapist records and middle school report cards, the County now seeks to compel the victims of its employees’ misconduct … to undergo involuntary psychiatric examinations.”
The county said the photos were not posted on the internet and said the basis for Bryant's claims is that county employees "showed accident site photos to other government personnel and to a bartender" after the crash. It also is fighting an attempt by Bryant to take the depositions of L.A. Sheriff Alex Villanueva and County Fire Department Chief Daryl Osby.
“Adding insult to injury, the County is making this demand while simultaneously refusing to make two of its key witnesses … available for a routine deposition,” the plaintiffs’ attorneys stated. “Apparently, in the County’s estimation, top officials should be shielded from providing any testimony, but the victims should not only withstand the emotional toll of a full-day deposition, but also submit to an eight-hour involuntary psychiatric examination simply because they had the audacity to demand accountability for Defendants’ disrespect of the dead and callous intrusion upon their private grief.”
Vanessa Bryant is seeking compensatory and punitive damages in her lawsuit. Earlier this year, she and other plaintiffs settled a separate wrongful death lawsuit they filed against the operator of the doomed helicopter and other defendants. That led the county to try to explore whether she was double-dipping by seeking to recover damages for the same harm of emotional distress in two separate lawsuits, including the one over crash scene photos.
The county said her lawsuit over the photos has no merit.
In the meantime, her attorney, Luis Li, is seeking the phone records of a retired fire department captain who took photos at the crash scene and later was rebuked and almost fired because of it after an investigation.
The case is scheduled for trial in February.
Follow reporter Brent Schrotenboer @Schrotenboer. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Vanessa Bryant: County tries to force Kobe's widow into psychiatric exam