The Depp-Heard saga continues: insurance coverage for legal costs is in question : Risk and insurance


Amber Heard’s insurance doesn’t believe she’s liable to pay the $10.4 million verdict owed to actor Johnny Depp.

He thrilled viewers around the world in May: Johnny Depp vs. Amber Heard.

Depp sued his ex-wife Heard for defamation after a 2018 op-ed published in The Washington Post domestic violence allegation. A 2022 jury found Depp’s claims substantial and awarded the actor a total of $10.4 million in damages.

Following the June 1 verdict, Heard’s insurance company filed suit against the actress, saying she had no continuing obligation to defend Heard. The insurance company, New York Marine and General Insurance Co., filed a lawsuit a month after Depp-Heard’s verdict.

“A real controversy has arisen and now exists between [New York Marine]on the one hand, and Heard, on the other hand, as to the duties and obligations due between [New York Marine] and heard under indemnification policy” for its actions in the Depp case, the insurer said.

The policy in question provided liability coverage up to $1 million.

When Depp’s underlying libel case first came to light in 2019, New York Marine initially told Heard it would provide a legal defense. But under California law, she was not required to compensate for her actions.

In its complaint, New York Marine said, “The factual findings of the jury establish that Heard’s liability is caused by Heard’s willful act or acts.”

While Heard is currently aiming to appeal the jury’s decision in the defamation case, she has still incurred $6 million in attorney fees.

In addition to New York Marine, Heard relies on a homeowners insurance policy through Travelers Commerical Insurance to offset his legal costs, which led Travelers to sue New York Marine in 2021 for fair contribution to defense costs.

In that lawsuit, Travelers pointed to its own policy, which “covered or potentially covered damages due to defamation.” That case has been put on hold pending a conclusion in the Depp-Heard libel suit. Because the resolution was satisfied, the question is whether New York Marine is liable for any award made against Heard.

Scorecard: No decision has been made, but the saga will likely continue as public interest and fame bleed into legality.

Carry: Celebrities are just like us, aren’t they? But this is not the question. The real lesson here is that when an insured faces nuclear-sized claims, insurers will want to review what is or isn’t covered lest they be tied to a nuclear-sized verdict. &

Autumn Demberger is content strategist at Risk & Insurance®. She can be reached at [email protected]

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