Johnny Depp-Amber Heard Trial: Understanding consequences of defamation

Johnny Depp and Amber Heard both won, in part, their defamation lawsuits, a jury announced on Wednesday after deliberating for about 12 hours over three days.

After hearing weeks of testimony — including hours from both Depp and Heard themselves — the jury’s stunning decision found both defamation suits credible and awarded both actors millions of dollars in damages. Heard was to pay Depp $15 million, and Depp is to pay Heard $2 million.

The jury awarded Depp $10 million in compensatory damages, which is compensation for libel, and $5 million in punitive damages, which is the penalty for libel. But, because of a Virginia statute, Depp’s punitive damages are limited to $350,000 — making the total he’ll be awarded just over $10 million. Heard's $2 million was awarded in compensatory damages. 

Central Florida attorney Whitney Boan said to understand this trial, it’s important to understand defamation. By definition, defamation is the act of communicating false statements about a person that injure the reputation of that person.

In order to win a defamation lawsuit, Boan said the person or business must prove that someone said or posted something about them that cannot be proved, that the person had malicious intent in doing so, and that the claim cost the person or business money.

FOX 35 News asked if the average person can be blamed for defamation by writing a negative review online about a person or business.

"If it’s a larger company, and you go after them online in a review in a matter where you can’t back it up, and they can show that you did it in a way to cost them business, arguably they can bring suit against you for defamation," Boan said.

Still, Boan said bringing a lawsuit costs time and money, so she said it’s not exactly likely to happen on a smaller scale. She said it’s an important lesson for people to take out of the trial.

"Your words and your actions have consequences. Sticks and stones can break bones, but words can also be hurtful too," Boan said.