As the #MeToo movement fueled a public airing of sexual assault and misconduct allegations, defamation lawsuits quickly became a tool for both the accused and accusers to seek retribution and redemption.
Men accused of misconduct have increasingly turned to defamation suits to try to clear their names, as have victims accused of making false allegations. But between the high costs of lawyers’ fees and the fears of revealing embarrassing details in open court, many such cases are settled before they ever reach trial.
The bitter legal battle between the actor Johnny Depp and his ex-wife Amber Heard was closely watched in part because it was one of the highest-profile defamation cases to make it to trial recently, and several lawyers said that Mr. Depp’s victory in a Virginia court on Wednesday — when he was awarded more than $10 million in damages — could embolden others accused of abuse or misconduct to try their luck with juries, despite the real risks of airing dirty laundry in public.
Ugly charges of physical abuse and lurid testimony came to define the Depp-Heard trial, which included one line of questioning about actual dirty laundry: the couple’s fierce argument over how the sheets in a Los Angeles penthouse where they were staying had become befouled. But the jury found in the end that Ms. Heard had defamed Mr. Depp in a 2018 op-ed in The Washington Post in which she referred to herself as a “public figure representing domestic abuse.”