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Friday, June 14, 2024 | Back issues
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Amber Heard’s bid to get insurer to pay for defamation defense looks shaky

A federal judge tentatively threw out claims that her insurer should have paid for the legal team she hired instead of the one the insurer had appointed.

LOS ANGELES (CN) — Actress Amber Heard may be striking out in her attempt to get one of her insurance companies to reimburse her for hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal costs to defend the defamation lawsuit by her ex-husband Johnny Depp.

U.S. District Judge George Wu in Los Angeles issued a tentative ruling dismissing Heard's breach of contract and breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing claims against New York Marine and General Insurance ahead of a Monday hearing.

The "Aquaman" star had brought the counterclaims in a lawsuit by NY Marine filed last year. The insurer seeks a ruling that it shouldn't have to pay Heard under the $1 million policy, either for her legal costs or the judgment against her, because her liability for defamation was the result of a "willful act" by her.

Heard, in response, clainms NY Marine reneged on its obligation to defend her under the insurance policy that included comprehensive personal liability coverage. Specifically, she says, the insurer had reserved its rights to deny coverage on the basis that she behaved intentionally when purportedly defaming Depp, and as such had created a conflict of interest that obligated her to retain independent counsel rather than the lawyers the insurer had appointed to defend her.

NY Marine’s appointed counsel withdrew from the case before it went to trial last year in Virginia, and according to Wu's tentative ruling, NY Marine agreed to reimburse Heard's other insurer Travelers Commercial Insurance for some of the money it paid toward Heard’s defense in the Depp case, but hasn't done so.

According to the insurer, its appointed lawyers in the Depp case were the same ones that were already representing Heard, and when she decided to retain another legal team, it was no longer required to pay for her defense.

Wu referred to a decision he issued last year in a related lawsuit between Travelers and NY Marine over who had to pay what for Heard's defense. In that case, the judge had concluded that in Virginia, where the trial was held, unlike in places such as California, the attorney an insurer has appointed to represent an insured has only one client under state law — the insured.

As such, the Virginia lawyer that the insurer had appointed had no conflict of interest, according to the judge, and NY Marine had no obligation to reimburse Travelers for her new legal team.

"In the end, even assuming the court would be open to the possibility of effectively reconsidering the decision it issued in the Travelers action over 14 months ago, Heard has not persuaded it that it should do so," Wu said.

Heard's lawyer in the insurance lawsuit didn't respond to a request for comment on the tentative ruling by press time.

A Virginia jury awarded Depp $10 million in compensatory damages and another $5 million in punitive damages after finding the "Pirates of Caribbean" actor had been defamed by an op-ed in The Washington Post. In the piece, Heard said she had become a public figure representing domestic abuse and pinpointed a period two years earlier in 2016, when she had taken out a temporary restraining order against then-husband Depp.

The former couple settled in December for $1 million.

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Follow @edpettersson
Categories / Civil Rights, Entertainment

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