DAVID LEE–A Dallas County jury Tuesday ordered JPMorgan Chase to pay a whopping $4 billion in damages for mishandling the estate of the former American Airlines executive behind the SABRE airline reservation system.
Max D. Hopper died of a stroke in 2010 and JPMorgan was selected as administrator to split $19 million in assets between his widow and two of Hopper’s children from an earlier marriage.
The widow, Jo N. Hopper, sued the bank in 2011 for breach of fiduciary duty and breach of contract.
The verdict from the six-member jury concluded that JPMorgan failed “to act toward Jo Hopper in the utmost good faith and exercise the most scrupulous honesty” and failed put her interests “above its own and to not use the advantage of its position to gain any benefit for itself” at her expense.
The jury awarded $4 billion in punitive damages and $4.6 million in actual damages.
JPMorgan spokesman Andrew Gray said he is confident the massive verdict will not survive appeal.
“Clearly, the award far exceeds any possible interpretation of Texas tort reform statutes,” Gray said in a statement.
Hopper blasted JPMorgan after the verdict, saying it “horribly mistreated” her and “abused my family and me out of sheer ineptitude and greed.”
She said the verdict would protect others from being mistreated by banks.
“Surviving stage 4 lymphoma cancer was easier than dealing with this bank and its estate administration,” she said in a statement Tuesday evening.
Hopper accused the bank of failing to release interests in the couple’s assets for more than five years, including art, jewelry and her late husband’s collection of 6,700 golf putters and 900 bottles of wine.
“The bank’s incompetence caused more than just unacceptably long timelines; bank representatives failed to meet financial deadlines for the assets under their control. In at least one instance, stock options were allowed to expire,” Hopper’s attorneys with Loewinsohn Flegle in Dallas said in a statement.
“In others, Mrs. Hopper’s wishes to sell certain stock were ignored. The resulting losses, the jury found, resulted in actual damages and mental anguish suffered by Mrs. Hopper. With respect to Mr. Hopper’s adult children, the jury found that they lost potential inheritance in excess of $3 million when the bank chose to pay its lawyers’ legal fees out of the estate account to defend claims against the bank for violating its fiduciary duty.”
Hopper’s attorneys claimed that her chief representative at the bank’s private wealth management unit in Dallas had handled only one other intestate estate during her career.
Hopper’s husband retired as chairman of Sabre Group in 1995, which was at the time a subsidiary of Fort Worth-based American Airlines’ parent company. It was spun off in 2000 and is now known as Southlake-based Sabre Holdings. It operates the Sabre Global Distribution System, which automates online booking for airlines, hotels, car rental companies, rail providers and tour operators.