The Enforcement Risk – Who’s paying Johnny Depp?
It’s been hard to miss the latest instalment in the Johnny Depp v Amber Heard saga, thanks in no small part to the army of TV cameras and the resulting social media frenzy.
1st June 2022 saw the Jury come down decisively on the side of Johnny Depp, awarding him $15 million in damages, with a token gesture of $2 million awarded to Amber Heard.
Assuming the US legal system is similar to the UK system, the typical rule is that the loser is responsible for some of the winner’s legal costs. Johnny Depp’s team, impressive as they were, did not come cheap and his legal fees are estimated to be in the region of $5.5 million.
Amber Heard, who hinted at financial concerns during her witness evidence, is therefore potentially facing a bill of several $ million. This begs the obvious question – how is she going to pay? If she doesn’t have the money, even the best lawyers won’t be able to recover Depp’s damages.
Whilst Johnny Depp might not be too concerned with recovering his money – the verdict alone will no doubt be worth the legal fees for the sake of his reputation – the typical litigant does not have the same luxury.
Spending £1,000’s on legal fees to pursue a claim, only to find out your opponent cannot pay, makes for a pyrrhic victory. It is for this reason one eye should always be on the enforcement risk – at the end of the day, can you enforce any judgment if you win?
The Enforcement Risk
Before pursuing a claim your lawyer can help you assess the risk of enforcement. For limited companies this can involve a detailed look at their accounts and searches to find out what property it owns. For individuals this would involve checking bankruptcy registers, and asset search reports can be invaluable in deciding whether your opponent is good for the money.
The enforcement risk is not just a concern for potential claimants. Whilst a defendant won’t have the luxury of deciding whether they want to resort to a legal battle, any successful defendant will be looking to the other side to reimburse the legal fees incurred. By the end of a trial these can be well into the £100,000’s, even if they’re not quite at eyewatering level incurred by Johnny Depp. If there are concerns about the claimant’s ability to pay any adverse costs awarded against them, applications like security for costs (where the claimant has to pay some money into court for safe-keeping) can be very effective.
Whether you’re the claimant or defendant, at the early stages of the claim thought should always be given to the risk of enforcement – you don’t want to find out after an expensive and stressful legal claim that your hard-fought victory isn’t worth the paper it’s written on.