Johnny Depp has prevailed in his $50 million defamation lawsuit against his ex-wife Amber Heard over domestic abuse allegations.
A seven-person civil jury in Virginia found that Heard defamed the star of Pirates of the Caribbean Y Fantastic Beasts when she insinuated that he abused her in a 2018 op-ed on Washington Post.
The jury also upheld one of three claims made by Heard in his $100 million countersuit against Depp and his lawyer, who called his original accusations in 2016 an “ambush” and “a hoax.”
However, neither party obtained the full amount of damages they sought.
How much money did Depp and Heard receive?
The jury awarded Depp $10 million in compensatory damages and $5 million in punitive damages, compared with the $50 million his lawyers were asking for.
Heard was awarded compensatory damages of $2 million and no punitive damages, compared to the $100 million requested in her counterclaim.
Since Virginia law limits punitive damages to $350,000, the actress must pay Depp a total of $10.35 million.
In total, that leaves Depp with $8.35 million from the judgment, though it’s unclear who will be ordered to pay whose legal costs.
Neither party’s damages can be avoided due to bankruptcy, which, according to Depp was reportedly close in 2009.
Where does this result leave both parties?
Dan Abrams, founder of the Trial News Network law and crime, described the result as “a real surprise” and “a total loss for Amber Heard”. She considers that the US$2 million awarded to her was “actually a token gain”.
He said: “It seems to me that the bottom line of this case is that these jurors believed Johnny Depp and not Amber Heard. I don’t suppose there is any other way to interpret all these verdicts together.”
The verdict contrasted with a similar case in the UK, in which Depp unsuccessfully sued The Sun for calling him a “wife beater.” They rejected his appeal in March 2021.
Although British libel law is generally kinder to the aggrieved party than in the US, a judge found that the newspaper had shown that its article was “substantially true” and that 12 of the 14 alleged incidents of domestic violence they had occurred.
To complicate matters, Depp previously paid Heard $7 million as part of their divorce settlement that was finalized in 2017. Although Heard publicly pledged to donate it to charity, he testified at trial that he hadn’t been able to finish doing so because of the trial. , which he said cost him “more than $6 million” in legal fees.
A spokesperson for Heard commented to New York Times who plans to appeal the result.
Why was the damage payment so high?
The amount awarded to Depp reflects the jury’s belief that Heard acted with “actual malice,” meaning that he knew his claims were false or that he acted with “a reckless disregard for the truth” when he wrote his op-ed and published it. “reposted” by retweeting it on Twitter.
The opinion piece did not name Depp, but Heard had already publicly accused him of domestic violence two years earlier. Therefore, Depp’s lawyers argued that she was clearly referring to him.
Prior to the verdict, the judge instructed the jury to choose a level of compensatory damages that would “fairly compensate” plaintiffs for financial losses due to defamatory statements, damage to their businesses, damage to their reputations, and “any pain, embarrassment , humiliation, or mental suffering.”
They were told to award punitive damages on top of this only if they believed Heard’s statements, or those of Depp’s lawyer, were knowingly false or made “so recklessly as to constitute a willful disregard for the truth,” which it means that the speakers had “a high degree of awareness that the statements were probably false.”
The jury evidently believed that at least one of Heard’s statements warranted those punitive damages, while only one of Depp’s attorney’s statements exceeded the lower requirement of compensatory damages.
What were the statements in question?
Heard first accused Depp of abusing her in 2016, when she filed for divorce and obtained a temporary restraining order against him.
“Throughout our relationship, Johnny has been verbally and physically abusive to me. I endured excessive emotional, verbal, and physical abuse from Johnny, including angry, hostile, humiliating, and threatening assaults whenever I questioned his authority or disagreed with him,” she stated at the time.
After their divorce settlement, they released a joint statement that read, “Neither party has made false accusations for financial gain. There was never any intention of physical or emotional harm.”
However, in 2018, Heard wrote an op-ed about sexual violence in which she identified herself as a survivor. Depp’s lawsuit took aim at three sections of that op-ed, which she argued were false and defamatory.
The first was the headline, which Heard did not write, which read: “Spoke about sexual violence and faced the wrath of our culture.” The second was her statement that “two years ago, I became a public figure representing domestic abuse and felt the full force of our culture’s anger at women speaking out.”
The third part said: “I had the rare advantage of seeing, in real time, how institutions protect men accused of abuse.”
According to the judge’s instructions, the jury had to believe not only that all three statements were false, but that others would interpret them as referring to Depp, that they were “designed and intended” by Heard to defame him, and that they were made with actual malice. .
Meanwhile, Heard’s counterclaim concerned three statements from Depp’s attorney, Adam Waldman. In the first, he accused “Heard and his friends in the media” of “using false accusations of sexual violence as a sword and shield.”
In the second, he claimed that Heard and her friends had deliberately “misled Mr. Depp” by fabricating damage to his home, coordinating their stories, and then making a bogus emergency call. In the third, she referred to Heard’s accusations as an “abuse hoax.”
The jury decided that only the second statement met all the criteria for defamation, meaning that it was false and made with true malice.