DALLAS (CN) – A Texas probate judge reduced a widow’s $4 billion verdict against JPMorgan Chase to only $7 million, 10 months after a jury found that the bank mishandled the estate of a former American Airlines executive.
In a 3-page final judgment Wednesday, Probate Judge Brenda Thompson ordered the bank to pay Jo N. Hopper $781,000 in actual damages, $5 million in attorneys’ fees, $945,000 in punitive damages and $255,000 in prejudgment interest.
Hopper’s husband, Max D. Hopper, died of a stroke eight years ago and JPMorgan was hired to administer his estate and split $19 million in assets between his widow and two of his children from an earlier marriage. Hopper sued the bank in 2011 for breach of fiduciary duty and breach of contract. She claimed that surviving cancer “was easier than dealing with” JPMorgan and that it “abused my family and me out of sheer ineptitude and greed.”
The jury awarded her $4 billion in punitive damages and $4.6 million in actual damages in October 2017. The verdict was the largest issued in the United States in 2017 and the ninth largest of all time, according to Hopper’s attorneys. She accused the bank of failing to release interests in the couple’s assets for more than five years, including art, jewelry and her husband’s collection of 6,700 golf putters and 900 bottles of wine.
The judge’s reduction of the jury verdict was expected after Hopper filed a motion in March that asked for a reduction to approximately $14.3 million. She asked for $780,000 in actual damages, $7.8 million in punitive damages, $255,000 in prejudgment interest and $5 million in attorneys’ fees.
JPMorgan disagreed with Hopper’s calculations, responding in April that she should get at most $945,000 in punitive damages.
Hopper’s attorney, Alan Loewinsohn with Loewinsohn Flegle Deary Simon in Dallas, said he and his client “completely respect the court’s decision” on the judgment amounts.
“We note that in the final judgment, Judge Thompson affirmed 100 percent of the actual damages and attorneys’ fees awarded by the jury, and awarded punitive damages in accordance with the statutory cap on punitive damages,” he said Friday evening. “Regardless of the judgment amount regarding punitive damages, Ms. Hopper is hopeful that the verdict sent a message on how probate estates should not be handled in Texas.”
JPMorgan spokesman Greg Hassell defended the bank, saying it has “extensive experience handling large, complex estates” both in Dallas and nationwide.
“Our company acted professionally and in good faith in administering the estate fairly and impartially,” he said Friday morning.
Hopper’s husband retired in 1995 as chairman of Sabre Group, a subsidiary of American Airlines’ parent company at the time. Spun off in 2000, Sabre Holdings operates the Sabre Global Distribution System, which automates online bookings for airlines, hotels, car rental companies, rail providers and tour operators.