Johnny Depp vs Amber Heard verdict explained: Why does she have to pay ₹116 crore in damages and him only ₹15 crore

On Wednesday, a Virginia jury ruled in favor of Johnny Depp in his defamation lawsuit against ex-wife Amber Heard. The verdict vindicated his stance that Amber fabricated claims that she was abused by Johnny before and during their brief marriage. In the unanimous decision, the jury ruled that Amber defamed Johnny when she called herself a victim of domestic abuse. The jury also found in favor of Amber, who said she was defamed by Johnny’s lawyer when he called her abuse allegations a hoax. Also read: Johnny Depp wins defamation lawsuit in unanimous verdict, ex-wife Amber Heard ordered to pay $15 million in damages

Amber has been ordered to pay $15 million (roughly 116 crore) in damages. On the other hand, Johnny has been asked to pay $2 million (just over 15 crore). Johnny’s initial suit against Amber was for $50 million (over 387 crore) while Amber had countersued him for $100 million (over 775 crore). Then how did the jury arrive at the lowered amounts? And what do the differing amounts mean? We explain.

What was the case?

Johnny had sued Amber alleging she defamed him when she called herself a victim of domestic abuse in a 2018 op-ed she wrote for the Washington Post. Amber countersued him saying he defamed her when he called her a liar and her claims ‘a hoax’. Both alleged they suffered abuse at the hands of the other during their two-year marriage, which lasted from 2015-17.

If both are guilty, how is it a victory for Johnny Depp?

While the jury found both guilty of defamation, the verdict has been hailed as a victory for Johnny. In his statement, he thanked the jurors for giving him ‘his life back’. Amber, on the other hand, said she was ‘heartbroken’ as she ‘lost the case’. This is because while the jury found Amber guilty on all three counts, they found Johnny was guilty on only one of three counts.

The jury ruled that not only did Amber defame Johnny by calling him an abuser, she made the statements ‘with actual malice’, which is a higher threshold of offence in cases involving public figures. She was found guilty on all three counts. However, in Amber’s countersuit against Johnny, the jury ruled in two of the three counts, Amber’s legal team was not able to prove ‘all the elements of defamation’. Only in one count was Johnny held guilty.

How was the amount for damages determined?

In the American legal system, the jury is allowed to determine the amount for damages based on the facts of the case and their own discretion. Since Amber’s offences were more in number and graver, she was ordered to pay the greater amount in damages. The damages were split in two parts–compensatory and punitive. As per an explainer from Cornell University’s legal department, compensatory damages are intended to compensate the affected party for loss. Punitive damages are awarded to punish a wrongdoer. In this case, Amber was ordered to pay $10 million in compensatory damages and $5 million in punitive damages. Johnny was ordered to pay $2 million in compensatory damages and zero in punitive damages. This implies that the jury did not deem it necessary to punish Johnny but only to compensate Amber.

How much will each party finally pay?

While Amber has been ordered to pay $15 million ( 116 crore) in damages, in the end, she will end up paying $10.35 million (just over 80 crore). That is because in Virginia, where the case was fought, punitive damages in civil suits are capped at $350,000 ( 2.7 crore) maximum. Johnny will pay the $2 million ( 15 crore) he has been asked to. However, reports suggest that Amber is planning to appeal the verdict in a higher court. If she does, the damages won’t be paid until the outcome of that appeal is determined.

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