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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 bdiefenderfer@cgalaw.com for assistance with bankruptcy and bankruptcy-related questions in Pennsylvania.

CGA Law Firm Attorney Brent Diefenderfer

Brent C. Diefenderfer

Attorney | Shareholder

Brent C. Diefenderfer is a shareholder with CGA Law Firm. He practices a client-first approach in the practice of law. Brent identifies multiple courses of action, gives straightforward advice and diligently works to achieve results. He is detail oriented and ensures his clients’ matters are handled correctly, efficiently and in a cost-effective manner.

Read Brent’s Bio Page in full HERE.