Amber Heard’s Insurer Argues No Coverage Owed for ‘Willful’ Defamation of Depp

An insurance carrier that issued a $1 million comprehensive liability policy to actress Amber Heard has filed a lawsuit seeking a declaratory judgment that it is not liable for paying any part of a $10,350,000 jury award against her in a defamation lawsuit filed by actor Johnny Depp.

New York Marine and General Insurance Co. says in an action filed Friday in federal court in Los Angeles that a jury could not have found Heard culpable unless it found she intentionally defamed her ex-husband.

“An insurer is not liable for the loss caused by the willful act of the insured, but (it) is not exonerated by the negligence of the insured, or the insured’s agents or others,” the company’s filing says, citing the California Insurance Code.

Secondly, the carrier says Heard violated the terms of the policy by refusing to work with the attorneys it selected to represent her.

Depp in 2019 filed a lawsuit in Fairfax County, Virginia Circuit Court charging that Heard and defamed him in an essay published by the Washington Post that said she had been a victim of domestic abuse. On June 1, a jury returned a verdict in favor of Depp awarding $10 million in compensatory damages and $5 million in punitive damages. The court reduced the punitive damage award to $350,000, as required by Virginia law.

The jury also returned a verdict in favor of Heard in counterclaims she had made against Depp and awarded her $2 million in damages. The two verdicts together work out to be a $8,350,000 victory for Depp.

New York Marine said in the court filing that it issued the liability policy in 2018 to Heard and a corporation that she owns, Under the Black Sky Inc. The policy has a $1 million per occurence limit.

The corporation was registered in Texas, but Heard is a resident of California. New York Marine contends that insurers cannot be held liable for the willful acts of insureds under California Insurance Code Section 533.

What’s more, the insurer said in the filing that it retained the Cameron McEvoy law firm to defend Heard while reserving its right to decline to indemnify Heard for the loss. Heard “or her agents” however, instructed the other attorneys she retained not to include Cameron McEvoy in the defense, so the law firm withdrew from the case, the lawsuit says. The policy required Heard to cooperate with the defense team, the insurer contends.

Heard filed a motion for mistrial on July 1, making several arguments. Among them: Her attorneys say they discovered that one of the jurors, who the jury summons said was born in 1945, was actually born in 1970. Heard’s attorneys say the court needs to investigate whether the person selected to serve on the jury is the same person who received the summons.

In a supplemental memorandum filed Friday, Heard said the 52-year-old man selected for the jury lived at the same address and had the same last name as the 77-year-old man who received the jury summons.

Depp’s attorneys responded on Monday, saying that even accepting an argument that a son served on the jury instead of the father who was summoned, there is no evidence that Heard’s case was prejudiced because of the switch. Heard was aware of the apparent age discrepancy at the time of the trial but did not object, the brief says.

“Clearly Ms. Heard waived any right to allege new ‘facts’ she chose not to investigate for so long, much less to demand the extraordinary remedy of a mistrial,” the filing says.

About the photo: This combination of two separate photos shows actors Johnny Depp, left, and Amber Heard in the courtroom for closing arguments at the Fairfax County Circuit Courthouse in Fairfax, Va., on Friday, May 27, 2022.