DALLAS – A jury has awarded the widow and heirs of Sabre airline reservation system pioneer Max D. Hopper more than $6 billion in damages after finding JPMorgan Chase in breach of its fiduciary duty in administering the multimillion-dollar Hopper estate. 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, said James S. Bell of James S. Bell, PC, trial lawyer for Mr. Hopper’s adult children, Dr. Stephen Hopper, a Tulsa, Oklahoma, psychiatrist, and Laura Wassmer, mayor of Prairie Village, Kansas.
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, said Mr. Bell. Mr. Hopper, who helped create the Sabre reservations system, died unexpectedly in 2010 without a valid will. At the time of his death, his estate was estimated at more than $19 million. Although JPMorgan Chase had represented itself as expert in independent estate administration matters, it took years for an initial release of assets to the family, with a significant portion still untouched by estate administrators. During the trial, the jury was told that after the family sued for breach of fiduciary duty, the bank used money from the estate account to pay its legal fees, which cost Ms. Wassmer and Dr. Hopper more than $3 million in inheritance value. After a four-week trial, the jury delivered its verdict to Dallas County Probate Judge Brenda Hull Thompson just after midnight on Sept. 26. Jurors awarded Mr. Hopper’s children and his widow, Jo Hopper, a total of $6 billion in punitive damages and approximately $10 million in actual damages and attorney fees.
The jury sent a loud, clear message to Wall Street about what is and is not an acceptable business practice, said Mr. Bell. If you are entrusted to administer an estate, you cannot use the proceeds as your own private wealth fund. Ms. Wassmer and Dr. Hopper were represented by James S. Bell of James S. Bell, PC, and Anthony L. Vitullo of Fee, Smith, Sharp & Vitullo, LLP. Mrs. Hopper was represented by Alan S. Loewinsohn and Kerry F. Schonwald of Loewinsohn Flegle Deary Simon LLP.
The case is No. PR-11-3238-1: In Re: Estate of Max D. Hopper, Deceased, Jo N. Hopper v. JP Morgan Chase Bank, N.A., et al, in the Probate Court of Dallas County, Texas.
With offices in Texas and California, James S. Bell, PC, is a trial firm focusing on high-stakes civil and criminal cases. Firm founder James S. Bell serves as lead trial counsel for Fortune 500 companies and governments in cases centering on business torts, securities and shareholder class actions, patent litigation, trademark infringement, health care and environmental issues, as well as in internal investigations, corporate crisis management, and white-collar criminal defense. For more information visit http://jamesbellpc.com.