The Groth Law Firm Podcast – Episode 2 – Johnny Depp and Amber Heard

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In episode two of the Groth Law Firm Podcast talks about the verdict from the Johnny Depp and Amber Heard trial, compensatory damages, and punitive damages and how it may be different if tried in Wisconsin.

Transcript:

Jon Groth:

All right. That sounds good. Interesting information. Sorry, we’re talking about the Johnny Depp, Amber Heard trial. The Amber Heard, Johnny Depp trial, whichever way you look at it because there were cross-claims involved. So here we go. This is Groth Law Firm podcast, the recording we have where we talk about different issues, not on a daily basis, but it’s getting to be pretty close to that. I know we’ve talked about a bunch of different things these past couple days. But today, we’re discussing the verdict because I think it’s interesting that there is a reduction in the award which is unique. That’s not something that you see every day. I think the news that came out made it confusing because I saw $15 million, then I saw $10 some million. I saw the $2 million and all these numbers that I think deserve some discussion and some clarity. So who we have here? We have attorney Mitch Raasch, one of our attorneys here at Groth Law Firm. We have Rose and Noelle, our clerks who have been on other recordings. So welcome everybody. Thank you for coming by today. Who wants to give us the rundown as to the verdict amounts? I’m pointing at Rose because she has a book open. So let’s see what you have. What was the initial result or the initial verdict itself, the raw data?

Rose:

Yeah, the jury awarded originally, Depp $10 million in compensatory damages and $5 million in punitive damages. And then that was further reduced down to $10.35, $10.4 around that amount. And the punitive damages themselves were capped at $350,000 which is the cap in Virginia because the Washington Post’s principal place of business is in Virginia.

Jon Groth:

Okay, so that’s Johnny Depp’s verdict against Amber Heard. And then Noelle, what is the verdict for Amber Heard against Johnny Depp?

Noelle:

She was awarded $2 million in compensatory damages and $0 in punitive damages.

Jon Groth:

Okay, and do you know the difference? Let me put Mitch on the line here. What is the compensatory damages and punitive damages?

Mitch Raasch:

Wow.

Jon Groth:

Putting you on the spot.

Mitch Raasch:

On the spot. My first recording here.

Jon Groth:

Yeah.

Mitch Raasch:

Well, compensatory is for anything that you can actually claim in terms of actual losses.

Jon Groth:

Losses.

Mitch Raasch:

Yeah, right.

Jon Groth:

Well, and for us, I think it’s different. In my mindset, we’re talking about medical bills for car crashes, medical bills, lost wages. So I am totally putting on the spot because I don’t even know exactly what their damages are for Johnny Depp and Amber Heard. I’m guessing in Wisconsin we call it loss of earning capacity maybe?

Mitch Raasch:

Sure. So Johnny Depp obviously missed out on a lot of opportunities because his reputation was damaged. So I think it gets into that.

Jon Groth:

Yeah. And then Amber Heard the exact opposite that… Well, the same thing. But from her side, she missed out on opportunities from… I think what one of Johnny Depp’s lawyers or his representatives said something about her. So there’s this pointing back and forth and saying, “You owe me compensatory damages. You owe me compensatory damages,” back and forth. And then punitive damages are different. How are they different based on Wisconsin law?

Mitch Raasch:

So punitive damages… Wait. So now we have all kinds of… Everybody is raising their hands. So punitive damages are different, in that it’s an intentional infliction, like an intentional act. So if somebody does something and you know that it’s going to cause somebody else harm. For example, the easiest thing I can talk about is for motor vehicle accidents in Wisconsin. If you’re driving drunk and it’s the 17th time you’ve been driving drunk and you were a member of the student group of Mothers Against Drunk Driving in high school. So this has been explained to you since day one of driving. And then you’ve been ticketed and pulled over and convicted of drunk driving in the past, and you still have to drive drunk and you cause a crash to occur and that person is injured. The victim is injured. It is punitive damages that can be sought after and awarded because at that point, you know that what you’re doing, getting in a car drunk is going to cause injury. So that is punitive damages. It’s meant to punish, meant to hopefully show society that we’re not going to stand for this kind of action. And not only are you going to be responsible for the medical bills and wage loss and pain and suffering, and things like that. But also, you’re responsible for an extra amount to punish you.

Mitch Raasch:

And that I think is it goes back to Johnny Depp and Amber Heard, that Johnny Depp was saying that what she did was intentional and it intentionally violated his rights. So there’s really no rhyme or reason for punitive damages, other than what’s going to punish you. And you can look at what somebody’s bank account is maybe and say, “Hey, if your net worth is,” I’ll just make something up, “$10 million.” What’s going to punish that person? Because $5 million is going to punish that person more than $5 million is going to punish Elon Musk. $5 million to Elon Musk is probably like a McDonald’s happy meal or something to everybody else. I don’t know. So that’s that punitive versus compensatory damages. In Virginia where this happened, the initial award was what Rose?

Rose:

For punitive damages?

Jon Groth:

Yeah.

Rose:

It was $5 million.

Jon Groth:

So $5 million, and then after the verdict… This is interesting. So during the trial, there must not have been a discussion about the caps. They don’t have that sunshine-type law that tells the jury as to what the caps are. So they had that and then the judge after the verdict is rendered, is filed and is docketed. Whatever the term in Virginia is. Then the court came back and said, “As a matter of law, we’re going to put this from $5 million down to…” What amount?

Rose:

$350,000.

Jon Groth:

Okay. So do you know, Rose, what’s the law in Wisconsin for punitive damages? What’s our cap on punitive damages?

Rose:

The cap on punitive damages in Wisconsin, correct me if I’m wrong, is $200,000 or twice the amount of compensatory damages, whichever is the greatest.

Jon Groth:

Okay. I think that’s interesting because I don’t know what that math would be if they were to try this case in Wisconsin. But it sounds like Johnny Depp would’ve gotten, what amount?

Rose:

A lot more because Johnny Depp actually received less in punitive damages than compensatory damages. So if he were to get twice the amount of compensatory damages, it would be closer to $20 million.

Jon Groth:

Yeah. Well, so I think the way the court would’ve looked at it in Wisconsin is if the jury awarded $5 million, then he would’ve gotten the $5 million because it’s up to twice the compensatory or $200,000, whatever is greater. So he would’ve been allowed to keep the $5 million, in my opinion, but that’s interesting. So another thing about limits, and let me see if I can get somebody to raise their hand on this who’ll talk about it. If you’re injured by a municipality on a sidewalk, for example, or at a governmental entity’s building, what’s the limit of their responsibility. Do you know?

Mitch Raasch:

I believe that is… Is that 350? Or is that 750?

Jon Groth:

Well, it’s 250 for a municipal vehicle. But if you’re just injured on the sidewalk, it can be as little as $50,000. So I mean, that’s where caps are really interesting because that’s how the government is trying to create some sensibility of verdicts. And it was the argument way many years ago that this is, I guess, tort reform or other ways of talking about it, that you have politicians that are fighting back and forth and trying to figure out what’s reasonable, what’s not, what’s sensible, what’s not. So some said, “Well, let’s put caps in, so you can’t have a runaway verdict.” Was there a movie runaway verdict or runaway trial? Was there a movie like that? Runaway something.

Mitch Raasch:

Runaway Jury, maybe.

Jon Groth:

Runaway Jury?

Mitch Raasch:

Yeah.

Jon Groth:

Yeah. Who is in that Runaway Jury?

Mitch Raasch:

What’s that guy… Eighties, heart-throb, actor…

Noelle:

Brad Pitt?

Jon Groth:

No. Eighties. Was Brad Pitt even born in the eighties?

Mitch Raasch:

John Cusack?

Jon Groth:

John Cusack. Yes.

Noelle:

That was my next guess.

Jon Groth:

John Cusack. It was not your next guess.

Noelle:

It really was.

Rose:

She knows her movies.

Jon Groth:

Do you know your stuff? Okay. All right. But no, seriously was it Runaway Jury?

Mitch Raasch:

Runaway Jury. Yeah. 2003.

Jon Groth:

There we go. Mitch just has an encyclopedic brain or it’s the-

Mitch Raasch:

No, it’s the brain.

Jon Groth:

… Computer. Yeah. Oh, oh, sorry. Yeah. It’s the brain-like computer or computer-like brain. So John Cusack’s Runaway Jury, so that’s what they’re trying to avoid by having these caps. And then in Wisconsin for wrongful death cases, that’s where you have caps where there’s a concern. Okay, so does anybody know what’s the cap for a wrongful death in Wisconsin?

Noelle:

A wrongful death, punitive damage cap is $500K for a minor and $350K for a deceased adult. And it can either go to the spouse, children or parents.

Jon Groth:

And that’s for compensatory damages. Right? So the wrongful death, as opposed to a punitive damage cap, a punitive damages cap would be different than the wrongful death claim. So there’s a wrongful death claim and then there’s loss of society and those types of things that go into that.

Noelle:

Yeah. It says loss of society and companionship. So that’s not punitive damages?

Jon Groth:

That’s not punitive damages because you can get a wrongful death claim for… The trial we had just a little bit ago, just a few weeks ago. The trial was for wrongful death. That bus driver took that corner and didn’t do it intentionally, didn’t intentionally intend to run over the guy twice. It just so happened that he wasn’t paying any attention and took the corner and ran over the person and killed that man and the wrongful death claim was for the death that was caused. So in essence a human life in Wisconsin can be worth only $350,000 or a half million-ish, which is interesting. Wisconsin is different than other states, right? I mean, every state is allowed to put value on life, and in Wisconsin based on what the politicians have said. And in order to avoid runaway John Cusack, runaway verdicts, they have these caps on wrongful deaths. But that’s getting a kind of beside the point with our Johnny Depp stuff. But I think it’s very interesting, when I heard the verdict and then I saw it go down, my immediate thought was, I wonder what the cap is. And then I looked a little bit into it and it’s like, “Oh, that’s exactly why there’s a cap for punitive damages in Virginia.” Yeah. Interesting. Yes. Well…

Noelle:

So I read that the reason for punitive damages is to punish the wrong-doer. So I guess my question with just your experience, do you think it’s pretty accurate with how it is decided opposed to $5 million to 3K or 300K or whatever it was produced to? I think either amount is a lot to deter her not to do it again. So I don’t understand that purpose.

Noelle:

The scaling and determination of that amount.

Mitch Raasch:

So what’s the public policy behind that. That’s what you’re asking me.

Noelle:

Right. I feel like it’s a subjective question that there should maybe… What’s the point of setting a cap when you can really assign whatever number.

Jon Groth:

I agree with you. I agree. Well, what’s the point of setting the cap? The point is, so you don’t have the runaway verdicts because you don’t want to, in essence, put businesses out of business because you get some good trial lawyers out there who are going to really inflame the jury. And then the jury awards, $2 billion and then the business is gone. And in order to look at the justice… What am I doing here?

Mitch Raasch:

Scales of justice.

Noelle:

The scales… Thank you. The scales… Yeah, you can’t see me kind wobbling around. The scales of justice, what’s reasonable. And is it reasonable to have businesses that employ people that can provide for families and help society? On the other hand, you want to protect those people from businesses that take advantage of them and that’s where you have politicians trying to figure that out.

Noelle:

And it goes back to… And we’re going to get on another tangent. So that’s why I’m hesitating, but the hot coffee case, right? The case against McDonalds where there was the verdict of $20 million or however much it was. It ended up being reduced down to $2 million. But because of that the news at that time was all over the place that this is outrageous. How can you get $20 million for just a simple coffee spill. And we have runaway juries, we have issues where it’s going to put businesses out of business and small mom and pop businesses are going to be gone because they could not afford a $20 million verdict, and they may not ever have insurance to cover a $20 million verdict. Most of the time punitive damages aren’t covered by insurance. I mean, how many times have you seen punitive damages covered by insurance, Mitch?

Mitch Raasch:

Zero.

Noelle:

Zero. Maybe I’ve seen at a few times in like a nursing home case or some other kind of cases. Maybe there is, but you really got to look at the facts of the case and see if there is coverage, but it’s almost never. So then that means that the business itself or the owners of the business, if it’s a sole proprietorship, then those individuals are responsible to pay that $20 million verdict and the business is gone and it’s bankrupt and all those jobs are lost. So that’s what they’re trying to figure out.

Noelle:

And I think it’s a relative term, right? It’s a relative discussion or the numbers are relative because we’re having a discussion about what’s going to punish that person. And like I said before, Elon Musk is not punished by $5 million. You know he just paid how much for Twitter, or it may not be going down, but what was the $40 billion or something 40… Certainly, it was billions of dollars. So $5 million in the realm of billions is not a lot or Warren Buffet is the same thing. The guy is worth billions of dollars. You’re not going to punish him by saying you owe $5 million in punitive damages. Yeah.

Rose:

So then do you think that people of that capital are not punishable by punitive damages?

Jon Groth:

I think they are. I think it’s a different amount though. I think it’s a punishment based on what’s going to stop them and a million dollars is not going to stop them. I think public outcry is going to stop them I think a…

Rose:

Like injunctive relief or…

Jon Groth:

Well, you’re not going to get… Because you can’t put the sauce back in the bottle, right? I mean, when you’re talking about this Johnny Depp, Amber Heard trial, the words are on the page and everybody can see it. You can’t take all those papers back and all the digital information back, it just can’t happen. So I don’t think injunctive release going to stop it. It maybe would stop the dissemination to some extent, or even if tomorrow the paper releases recant or some revising of the story, I guess. But even then it’s much more exciting. It’s much more newsworthy. What happened a while ago with the defamation and then the verdict about the defamation. Then the 16 words that might get the bottom of a second page, hidden in a newspaper or on some website on the 72nd webpage that says, “Oh, we should have said this versus that and we’re sorry.”

Jon Groth:

I think public outcry and I think having a dollar amount on the front page saying this was awarded, that would stop the next person, hopefully, or the next business from doing what was done. So my experience is, I had a trial a number of years ago where I said exactly that in my closing argument, I said, “You need to put a dollar amount on your verdict that will be picked up by the news tomorrow and then that will show every other person that this is not going to be tolerated in”… I think that was a Milwaukee county verdict that Milwaukee County. “The citizens in Milwaukee County are not going to tolerate this kind of action. And you need to make this big enough that it makes the news because that’s what punitive damages are for not only to punish but also to deter and you got to stop this from happening in the future.” So I didn’t listen to the closing arguments, but I’m guessing that’s probably what the attorneys for Johnny Depp and Amber Heard did. I don’t know. I think it’s interesting. Yeah.

Noelle:

Is there a cap on compensatory damages? Because when you said that when you are calculating punitive, you take into consideration their financials. So maybe that’s why she got a $0 punitive damage because I read somewhere that she’s like $8 million, negative $8 million in net worth now.

Rose:

But she received $0 in punitive damages.

Noelle:

Oh. That’s right.

Jon Groth:

So with the punitive, that’s looking at Johnny Depp and then how do you punish Johnny Depp. You look at his net worth or his assets and whether X amount, whatever amount that’s going to be is going to punish him. My guess is because it was zero, is that they didn’t find that his actions were intentional or that he did whatever he did or that… And again, that we have to clarify because I don’t understand. I thought it was his attorney that said it.

Mitch Raasch:

It was the lawyer. Yeah.

Jon Groth:

Yeah. Do you know what the lawyer said? Do you have any idea?

Mitch Raasch:

I think he said that it was a farce or something along those lines. Her claims were a farce.

Jon Groth:

Yeah. Boy. I think we need to use that word more often. A farce.

Mitch Raasch:

I don’t think it was that actual word, but it was along those lines.

Jon Groth:

It’s Virginia so they could use farce. Isn’t Virginia… It’s a Commonwealth, right? So it’s kind of like Louisiana where it’s a different… They have different terms for different parts of their legal system.

Mitch Raasch:

Yeah.

Jon Groth:

Yeah. Where like in New York, I’m a big Law and Order fan and whenever they say that they’re going to the Supreme Court of New York. In Wisconsin, the Supreme Court is the last court. In New York, the Supreme Court is the first right.

Noelle:

I was wondering about that. I’ve been re-watching SVU lately and it kept saying Supreme Court. This does not look like a Supreme Court environment.

Jon Groth:

Exactly.

Noelle:

The more you know.

Jon Groth:

The more you know. Yeah. It’s Wisconsin.

Rose:

The sound effect for SVU.

Noelle:

Done. Done.

Mitch Raasch:

Do we have a SVU sound effect?

Jon Groth:

I don’t, but I think that was a good one. I don’t think that’s right though. Done. Done.

Rose:

No, I mean, that’s right. It’s like the dun-dun.

Jon Groth:

But that’s for all Law and Orders, isn’t it? Dun-dun yeah. The bum-bum.

Noelle:

Is it? I’ve not watched…

Jon Groth:

I can sing it because there is the theme song.

Rose:

And these are their stories….

Jon Groth:

Yeah.

Rose:

Dun-dun.

Jon Groth:

Yes. But that’s for all Law and Orders, I believe. So it’s not just specific to SVU because it’s the dun-dun. So that’s the theme song for Law and Order. And then they go on and say, and these are their stories. And they go bum-bum. Yeah. The very distinct bum-bum or dun-dun. However, you want to say it.

Mitch Raasch:

Yeah. By the way, it wasn’t farce. It was that the actress created a hoax by making their home disheveled when police arrived, so.

Jon Groth:

Not farce, now hoax.

Mitch Raasch:

Hoax.

Jon Groth:

That’s still a pretty good word. Hoax. How do you spell hoax?

Rose:

H-O-A-X.

Jon Groth:

Yes.

Rose:

Hoax.

Jon Groth:

Good job. Hoax. Good job. All right. Okay. On that note, that’s a positive ending. We have the Groth Law Firm spelling bee has been won by Rose. Good job.

Mitch Raasch:

Good word.

Jon Groth:

Good word. Farce. How do you spell farce? Now, you all can try to win the day here. I got a quick check and Mitch, can you pull it up on your computer and see how to spell it?

Mitch Raasch:

I know.

Noelle:

F-A-R-S-E?

Mitch Raasch:

No, C not S, from my understanding.

Jon Groth:

Maybe the English, the British way of spelling it, it is with a S.

Mitch Raasch:

Yeah. F-A-R-C-E.

Noelle:

You can’t win them all.

Jon Groth:

We can try to edit that out. Yeah, and then we’ll have a computer say…. The computerized voice say C.

Noelle:

It’s okay.

Rose:

Just spell it again and we’ll keep the second one.

Noelle:

No, it’s okay. I know I’m not a strong speller, so that was close.

Rose:

I won a spelling bee.

Jon Groth:

Did you?

Rose:

And then I went on to regionals and I got second place.

Jon Groth:

Oh, wow. Second place is better than third. That’s great. Great. Okay. Thank you very much. This is interesting. Johnny Depp, Amber Heard and caps and how it relates to Wisconsin law. Thank you very much.

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