The tempestuous divorce of Johnny Depp and Amber Heard captured the attention of millions. Heard accused him of abuse during their time together in her 2018 Op-Ed in the Washington Post, and a cover photo for People magazine showed her face seemingly bruised. Depp claimed innocence and sued her for $50 million in damages for defamation – the accusations brought his career to a standstill. Heard countersued for $100 million, claiming she was only violent in response to Depp or in defense of her younger sister.
On June 1, 2022, the six-week trial in Virginia had a verdict after the jury deliberated for 13 hours over a few days. The jury found unanimously that Heard did not have proof for her claims. Moreover, they found that she knew that her claims were false, but she went ahead and made the claims of abuse anyway in her Op-Ed. This qualifies as malice (which is vital in defamation cases). The jury awarded Depp $10 million in compensatory damages and $5 million in punitive damages (the judge reduced punitive damages to the legal maximum of $350,000).
The jury also found that Depp defamed Heard through his attorney in a related case in England against a newspaper that referred to him as a “wife-beater.” It awarded Heard $2 million in compensatory damages and no punitive damages.
A cautionary tale
The short marriage ended in 2016, but the years of legal action continued and could continue if Heard appeals the ruling. Regardless of the findings, contentious divorces can spin out of control and lead to other legal issues. The claims and counter-claims damaged both Depp’s and Heard’s reputations, likely hampering their careers for the foreseeable future.
While international media attention is rare, scrutiny and innuendo can happen within a community. It also highlights the need for spouses to be cautious during and after a divorce — making false, inflammatory or defamatory statements often harms both sides.