Tortious Interference with an Expectancy
Talented Florida Probate & Estate Litigation Attorneys
Tortious interference is a fairly new theory of tort liability that was first recognized in Florida in 1966. Allen v. Leybourne. Tortious interference with an expectancy is a "tort" or a wrongful act that causes harm to another person, in this case, economic harm, and allows for compensatory and punitive damages.
The idea behind the tort is that it protects a testator's intent rather than protecting the beneficiary whose interest was reduced or eliminated. In the case of Whalen v. Prosser, the Second District Court of Appeals in Florida held that:
"The fraud, duress, undue influence, or other independent tortious conduct required for this tort is directed at the testator. The beneficiary is not directly defrauded or unduly influenced; the testator is. Thus, the common law court has created this cause of action not primarily to protect the beneficiary's inchoate rights, but to protect the deceased testator's former right to dispose of property freely and without improper interference. In a sense, the beneficiary's action is derivative of the testator's rights."
Establishing a Claim for the Tort of Intentional Interference with Expectancy
Plaintiffs must prove the following elements to establish a claim for the tort of intentional interference with expectancy:
- The decedent had a fixed intention to leave a portion of their estate to the plaintiff
- A strong probability existed that the decedent would have carried out their intention but for the wrongful acts of the defendant, whose interference must have been intentional
This is an action at law directly against the alleged tortfeasor. A judgment for money damages can be entered against the defendant personally, which can be executed against personal assets. Damages can include compensatory and punitive, as well as the imposition of a constructive trust upon fraudulent gifts.
When Is a Claim for the Tort of Intentional Interference with Expectancy Available?
This tort is available only if there is no adequate, alternative remedy in probate court. Normal tort remedies for interference with an expectancy are money damages. Generally, the tort is only allowed in circumstances in which no adequate, alternative remedy exists. Since these matters tend to involve wills, the courts have taken the position that unless the plaintiff has exhausted their remedies in probate or has no adequate, alternative remedies in probate, they cannot bring an intentional interference case. In DeWitt v Duce, the Florida Supreme Court held that "if adequate relief is available in a probate proceeding, then that remedy must be exhausted before a tortious interference claim may be pursued."
It is important to note that the court said the claim would be barred only if:
- Adequate relief was available in probate
- The plaintiff had a fair opportunity to obtain adequate relief in probate
- The plaintiff failed to seek that relief
If the plaintiff could have obtained relief in probate by successfully attacking the decedent’s will, then the plaintiff cannot maintain an action for tortious interference. However, the failure to successfully attack the will does not preclude the plaintiff from seeking damages for loss of inheritance caused by circumstances not involving the validity of the will.
Consult with Our Reputable & Knowledgeable Legal Team Today
If you have a tortious interference with an expectancy claim, either prosecuting or defending, please contact the attorneys at Adrian Philip Thomas, P.A for confident and aggressive legal representation. Our estate litigators have been serving clients throughout Florida in a wide variety of legal disputes since 2002, and we are prepared to put our resources and skills to work for you.
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