LOS ANGELES — A female US academic who claims she was assaulted by Johnny Depp's security guards while he was present can sue the US star for punitive damages, a judge ruled Monday.

Robin Eckert, a medical professor at University of California (UC) Irvine, claims Depp and his guards became aggressive with her at a concert in Los Angeles last December.

The academic had bought tickets for the VIP area at the show by Iggy and the Stooges. During a break between acts she left the area, and the confrontation occurred when she tried to return.

At one point she was dragged across the floor, Eckert claims. "This case arises from a highly painful and embarrassing attack, which occurred without cause or justification on my part," she said in a statement to court.

"Depp witnessed the attack, however, despite being his security guards' direct manager, did nothing to stop the attack," she added.

Depp's lawyer Andrew Brettler denied that the star was actively involved.

"They can't prove anything except that he stood there passively," he said, adding that only two of four security guards involved in the incident were protecting Depp.

Eckert, a 53-year-old mother of two, is suing the star and three security firms: Premier Group International, Damian Executive Production Inc. and Staff Pro Inc.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Michael Johnson rejected a motion by Depp and the security firms to limit Eckert's legal action to seeking compensation, but not punitive damages.

"I think the allegations here are sufficient; whether they can be proved or not or whether they are exaggerated is a different matter," he said.

[Johnny Depp via cinemafestival / Shutterstock.com]