A Texas jury has hit JP Morgan Chase for more than $4 billion in damages for mishandling the estate of a former information technology executive who pioneered American Airlines’ SABRE reservation system.
A Dallas County Probate Court jury sided with widow Jo Hopper and her two stepchildren Tuesday after a four-week trial. The jurors found the bank breached its fiduciary duties and contract by failing to properly handle the $19 million estate of Max Hopper, according to a verdict sheet and press release from Loewinsohn Flegle Deary Simon LLP, which represented Jo Hopper.
Max Hopper died from a stroke without a signed will in January 2010, according to the law firm. Under state law, the couple’s assets acquired during their 28-year marriage were divided between Jo Hopper and his two children from a previous marriage, Stephen Hopper and Laura Wassmer.
The assets were undivided, according to the law firm, and an administrator had to collect them, pay outstanding debts and release the remaining assets to the beneficiaries. JP Morgan Chase was picked after pitching the family on its expertise in estate administration.
It took the bank years to release basic interests in art, home furnishings, jewelry, and Max Hopper’s 6,700 golf putters and 900 bottles of wine, according to Loewinsohn Flegle Deary Simon. Some interests remain unreleased today.
The family members suffered direct financial harm as a result of the bank’s actions, according to Loewinsohn Flegle Deary Simon. Bank representatives failed to meet financial deadlines for assets under their control, with stock options expiring in one instance. In another instance, the bank ignored Jo Hopper’s desire to sell certain stocks.
Max Hopper’s children lost more than $3 million from their potential inheritance after the bank used an estate account to pay attorneys fees to defend JP Morgan against charges it violated its fiduciary duty, according to Loewinsohn Flegle Deary Simon.
In addition to $4 billion in punitive damages, the jury awarded $4.7 million in actual damages and $5 million in attorney fees.
“Mrs. Hopper asked the jury to send a message loud enough for JP Morgan to hear it all the way to Park Avenue in Manhattan,” said Alan Loewinsohn, lead attorney for Jo Hopper. “Hopefully, that message has been received.”
Loewinsohn was joined by Kerry Schonwald, also of Loewinsohn Flegle Deary Simon. Stephen Hopper and Wassmer were represented by Anthony Vitullo of Fee, Smith, Sharp & Vitullo and James Bill of James S. Bill PC. JP Morgan Chase was represented by John C. Eichman of Hunton & Williams.