The most disturbing aspect of Vanessa Bryant’s case
UVA Law Faculty Affiliations
Vanessa Bryant’s recent verdict against the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s and Fire Departments represents a federal jury’s response to immoral and grotesquely offensive conduct by some of their employees.
Bryant and co-plaintiff Chris Chester each lost their spouse and a child in a horrific helicopter crash that killed nine people. They sued the defendants for allowing their employees to violate the plaintiffs’ constitutional right to control the dissemination of images of their deceased relatives. In particular, they alleged that, because of departmental failures, the employees – rather than displaying the respect that befit the circumstances – used their phones to photograph the crash victims’ mutilated bodies and then shared those images with friends and acquaintances. Jurors awarded Bryant and Chester a total of $30 million in damages, enabling them to hold the departments and their employees accountable for this horrific invasion of privacy and dignity.
What is most disturbing about the court victory for Bryant and Chester, however, is its rarity. Every day, thousands of Americans face similar – or more egregious – privacy violations and find no redress whatsoever in our courts. Far too many people – overwhelmingly women, children, and LGBTQ individuals – suffer grievously when photographs of their naked bodies are shared or posted online, often with identifying information. Due to bigoted stereotypes and attitudes, the circulation of intimate images are particularly costly to women and minorities. The nonconsensual disclosure of such images isn’t just schoolboy fun – any more than the LA officers were just doing their job.