CGA Law News & Blog

Are Defamation Damages Dischargeable in Bankruptcy?

access_time Posted on: June 2nd, 2022

The jury issued its verdict yesterday in the Virginia defamation lawsuit between Johnny Depp and his ex-wife Amber Heard. After three weeks of trial, the jury concluded that Ms. Heard’s statements were defamatory.

Yesterday’s verdict has left many people asking whether damages awarded in a defamation case are dischargeable in bankruptcy.  Ordinarily, when a person files bankruptcy and receives a discharge, this means that the bankrupt party’s debts are eliminated and do not need to be repaid.

Dischargeability depends upon what else the jury concludes. The Bankruptcy Code says that debts based on liability “for willful and malicious injury by the debtor to another entity or to property of another entity” are specifically excluded from the scope of the bankruptcy discharge.

The Depp v. Heard jury found that Ms. Heard had acted intentionally and with actual malice to cause harm to Mr. Depp. This means that the jury’s award of damages is likely not dischargeable in bankruptcy.

To exclude a debt from the bankruptcy discharge, the “willful” and “malicious” nature of the bankrupt party’s actions must each be proven independently. Bankruptcy law defines the term “willful” as “a deliberate or intentional injury, not merely a deliberate or intentional act that leads to injury.” Merely showing that someone committed a conscious act that resulted in an injury is not sufficient. The act must be shown to have been done with the intent to cause the injury.

Attorney Diefenderfer practices in Bankruptcy Courts for the Middle and Eastern Districts of Pennsylvania and represents both Debtors and Creditors.  Contact him at [email protected] for assistance with bankruptcy and bankruptcy-related questions in Pennsylvania.

Brent C. Diefenderfer

Shareholder | Attorney

Brent C. Diefenderfer is a bankruptcy attorney representing clients throughout central Pennsylvania including York, Lancaster, Harrisburg and Gettysburg. Brent is certified as a Consumer Bankruptcy Specialist by the American Board of Certification and is one of only 25 attorneys in Pennsylvania to hold this designation.

Brent advises clients on implementing debt reduction strategies that are appropriate to their unique situation, including bankruptcy under Chapter 7, Chapter 13 or Chapter 11, creditor’s rights and non-bankruptcy debt reduction strategies.

Read Brent’s Bio Page in full HERE.