LA County Approves $2.5M Settlement for Two Families Over Calabasas Helicopter Crash Site Photos

2November 2021

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved a $2.5 million settlement Tuesday for two families suing over the unauthorized sharing of photos of the helicopter crash that killed nine people, including Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter.

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. The five-member board approved the payment without comment.

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 and his daughter Gianna.  A report from the County Counsel recommended the settlement to “avoid further litigation costs.”

The county has already spent approximately $1,292,592 in fees and legal costs in the two cases, according to the board letter.

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

“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 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 F. 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 how the case proceeds.

Bryant won a separate legal victory in the case last month when Los Angeles 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.

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