J.P. Morgan to pay widow $7.1M of multibillion verdict
J.P. Morgan Chase was ordered to pay $7.1 million to the widow of a deceased American Airlines executive in a ruling that largely wiped out her portion of a Dallas jury’s $8 billion verdict against the bank for mismanaging the family estate.
The decision Wednesday by a Texas probate judge caps months of wrangling since the September jury award that was the highest in the U.S. for 2017.
Judge Brenda Thompson concluded a final judgment was proper under the circumstances and ordered the bank to pay $781,432 in actual damages; more than $5 million in lawyers’ fees; almost $1 million in exemplary damages; and more than $255,000 prejudgment interest on the actual damages.
The children of Max Hopper, the executive, had sought $74 million after conceding that the $6 billion in punitive damages the jury awarded to them and their father’s estate wasn’t legally defensible under rulings by the Texas and U.S. courts. They reached a confidential settlement with the bank in April.
Jo Hopper, the widow, drew an objection from the bank when she told the judge in April she wanted $14.4 million in damages, down from the $2 billion the jury awarded her.
Max Hopper, who pioneered a reservation system for the airline, died unexpectedly with assets of more than $19 million but without a will, according to court records.
J.P. Morgan was accused at trial of dragging its feet and taking longer than five years to divvy up some assets among family members. One of the jurors later told Bloomberg News that the panel wanted to send a message to J.P. Morgan with the $8 billion verdict after its staff “promised so many things and they didn’t keep those promises.”
A lawyer for the bank argued at an April hearing that J.P. Morgan was “caught between two warring factions” — the widow and her step-children — and did nothing wrong in its administration of the Hopper estate. The attorney told the judge Jo Hopper should “take nothing” or get about $945,000 at most under Texas limits on damages awards.
Jo Hopper’s lawyer told the judge that J.P. Morgan “has thrown the kitchen sink at us” because it is “concerned what your ruling will say to the world.”
The case is Hopper v. J.P. Morgan Chase Bank, PR-11-3238-1, Probate Court, Dallas County, Texas.
— With assistance by Margaret Cronin Fisk
(Updates with breakdown of damages in third paragraph.)