Amber Heard faces new legal battle, this time with her insurer over Depp suit
Amber Heard is facing a legal battle on a new front, this time with her insurance company.
New York Marine and General Insurance Co. filed a lawsuit against the “Aquaman” actor Friday in federal court, seeking to avoid having to pay Heard after her unsuccessful defense of a defamation lawsuit brought by her ex-husband, Johnny Depp. The insurance company said in the lawsuit that it doesn’t believe it has an ongoing obligation to defend Heard. Another insurance company is also providing coverage to Heard.
“An actual controversy has arisen and now exists between Plaintiff, on the one hand, and Heard, on the other hand, with regard to the duties and obligations owed between Plaintiff and Heard under the Policy with respect to indemnity” for her actions in the Depp case, New York Marine said in its complaint. James P. Wagoner, attorney for New York Marine, declined to comment.
A spokesman for Heard declined to comment Saturday. Another insurance company, Travelers Commercial Insurance, “has spent and continues to spend substantial sums” for Heard’s defense under a homeowners insurance policy it provided in 2018, according to court filings. It is now pursuing New York Marine for its share of the costs.
The New York Marine complaint, lodged in U.S. District Court in California on Friday, is the latest potential legal challenge for Heard. It comes a little more than a month after the verdict in the drawn-out, highly publicized trial before a jury in Virginia to decide the merits of Depp’s claim that Heard had defamed him, and Heard’s countersuit. The trial involved weeks of contentious testimony, including Heard’s graphic allegations of sexual violence during their marriage. Depp denied Heard’s allegations of domestic abuse.
In 2019, Depp brought a $50-million libel case over his ex-wife’s December 2018 op-ed in the Washington Post, in which Heard described herself as “a public figure representing domestic abuse.” The op-ed did not mention Depp by name, but the “Pirates of the Caribbean” performer maintained that it was clear that he was the subject of the essay. Last month, Depp won a more than $10-million judgment against Heard after the six-week trial.
Depp won three claims against Heard, while Heard won one of three claims she brought against Depp in her $100-million countersuit.
Now her insurance company says it does not believe it has to pay Heard on the policy, which provided liability protection up to $1 million.
The lawsuit said the insurance company had written a policy for Heard in 2019.
“Plaintiff contends it has no duty to defend Heard based on California Insurance Code 533,” the insurance company said in its complaint. The state code provides that “an insurer is not liable for a loss caused by the willful act of the insured,” the lawsuit said.
The insurer said it had initially advised Heard it would provide a legal defense, but under California law, it did not have to provide an indemnity for her actions.
“The jury’s factual findings establish that Heard’s liability is caused by the willful act(s) of Heard,” New York Marine and General Insurance Co.’s suit said.
She has incurred at least $6 million in attorney fees, according to testimony in the Virginia defamation trial earlier this year.
Travelers sued New York Marine for an equitable contribution toward defense expenses, according to filings in 2021 in U.S. District Court in California.
Travelers said in its complaint that New York Marine should have to pay at least half of the defense costs. The homeowners policy Travelers issued to Heard in 2018 includes “covered or potentially covered damages because of defamation,” and promised a defense to any lawsuit seeking such damages, according to the complaint.
At issue is whether New York Marine is liable for costs associated with an independently appointed defense counsel for Heard versus one appointed by the insurance company, and whether New York Marine will be liable for any award made against Heard.
New York Marine denied some of the allegations and countersued, according to court filings. The case was stayed pending the resolution of the defamation case. Spokespeople for Travelers did not respond to request for comment.
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