Prairie Village Mayor Laura Wassmer and her brother, Tulsa, Okla., psychiatrist Stephen Hopper, learned this week that they had prevailed in a case they brought against financial services firm JPMorgan Chase regarding that company’s management of their deceased father’s estate.
Wassmer’s father Max D. Hopper developed the Sabre airline reservation system. He passed away in 2010 without a valid will. His estate was estimated at $19 million at the time of his death.
Wassmer and Stephen Hopper brought suit against JPMorgan Chase on claims that the company had mishandled the estate, breaching its fiduciary duty to the heirs. It took years for the initial release of assets from the estate, according to the plaintiffs’ claims, and the bank used money from the estate to pay for legal fees incurred when the heirs challenged the company’s handling of the account, a move that cost Wassmer and Hopper more than $3 million in inheritance, according to their attorney, James S. Bell.
On Wednesday, a jury in Dallas County, Tex., delivered its verdict after a four-week trail, awarding Max Hopper’s children and his widow, Jo Hopper, a total of $6 billion in punitive damages and around $10 million in actual damages and fees. In a civil case, the plaintiffs are eligible to collect punitive damages, though it’s likely JPMorgan Chase will appeal the ruling.
“JPMorgan Chase is one of the world’s largest and most respected banks, and its clients expect honesty and fairness in the handling of trusts and estates,” Bell said in a statement. “In this case, the JPMorgan Chase name doesn’t mean the institution put its clients’ interests above its own. When challenged, the bank used the family’s own money to fight them in court over the handling of their father’s estate.”
Bell said the verdict set an important precedent.
“The jury sent a loud, clear message to Wall Street about what is and is not an acceptable business practice,” said Bell. “If you are entrusted to administer an estate, you cannot use the proceeds as your own private wealth fund.”