An insurance company is suing actress Amber Heard on a three-pronged request: (1) that it be absolved of any duty to pay for her defense in a recent defamation case by her ex-husband Johnny Depp, (2) that it not be required to pay the multi-million dollar judgment Depp won against her, and (3) that it not have to pay any costs of ongoing litigation associated with an appeal.
The New York Marine and General Insurance Company filed the suit against Heard on Friday in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. New York Marine insured Heard from July 18, 2018 through July 18, 2019 — a crucial time period for the defamation case. That time frame includes the date Heard wrote and retweeted a now-infamous Washington Post op-ed — a piece in which she claimed she was “a public figure representing domestic abuse.” The headline discussed Heard “speaking up against sexual violence” and “facing our culture’s wrath.”
Today I published this op-ed in the Washington Post about the women who are channeling their rage about violence and inequality into political strength despite the price of coming forward.
From college campuses to Congress, we’re balancing the scales.https://t.co/dBSwuJBtay
— Amber Heard (@realamberheard) December 19, 2018
The period of time New York Marine insured Heard also includes the March 1, 2019 filing date of Depp’s defamation lawsuit. The suit was filed in Fairfax County, Virginia, because computer servers for The Washington Post are located there and because the paper’s printing plant is located Springfield, Virginia.
The insurance company’s suit claims Heard was covered by a $1 million insurance policy from July 2018 through July 2019.
In the complaint, New York Marine notes that California insurance law provides that although an insurance company may be liable for an insured party’s negligence, “an insurer is not liable for a loss caused by the willful act of the insured[.]” New York Marine argues that since Heard was found by a Virginia jury to have acted with actual malice — in other words, willfully — when defaming Depp, the company should not have to indemnify Heard.
The suit also claims New York Marine accepted Heard’s defense on October 1, 2019 through the law firm Cameron McEvoy and had agreed to continue its coverage through that firm. However, New York Marine claims Cameron McEvoy withdrew from the case on November 2, 2020 at the advice of Heard or attorneys representing her. It suggests New York Marine did not approve of a concomitant change in counsel and therefore shouldn’t have to pay for Heard’s legal fees.
On June 1, a jury found that Heard defamed Depp via her op-ed. The jury awarded Depp $10 million in compensatory damages and $5 million in punitive damages. However, the judgement topped out at $10.35 million in sum total, since punitive damages are capped at $350,000 under Virginia law. The jurors deliberated for 13 hours across three days after having heard testimony for six weeks.
The jury found Depp liable on one counterclaim of defamation associated with a statement made by his attorney, Adam Waldman, to the Daily Mail in April 2020. Waldman told the publication that Heard and her friends set Depp up by calling 911 and summoning first responders to his penthouse on May 21, 2016. That night, Heard had asked Depp to come to the penthouse they shared. Depp said he had told Heard he planned to file for divorce. Depp testified he went to the apartment to gather some belongings as he prepared to go on a tour with his band, The Hollywood Vampires.
That night, Depp said he and Heard spoke and she became angry. Heard claims Depp threw her phone at her face. Depp claims he did no such thing and left after his security team heard yelling and ran into the penthouse to take him away.
Six days later, Heard sought and obtained a domestic violence restraining order against Depp. The media awaited her exit from the Los Angeles County courthouse, and the story quickly spread around the globe.
Depp has denied ever physically or sexually abusing Heard.
Notably, Heard also had a homeowners insurance policy through Travelers Insurance at the time she wrote the Washington Post op-ed. In fact, a representative from Travelers Insurance was in court during the defamation trial each day, seated in the gallery behind Heard.
In a separate case filed last year, Travelers Insurance sued New York Marine for what the former company called the latter’s “failure to meet its obligation to provide [Heard] with independent counsel and other counsel necessary to defend [Heard].” The result of that alleged failure, according to Travelers, was that Travelers was unfairly forced to pay for its share of the defense. The judge in that case, which was also filed in the Central District of California, was asked to stay the proceedings for 65 days in May.
Read New York Marine’s complaint against Heard, below.
(Image via Evelyn Hockstein/Pool/AFP via Getty Images.)
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