Punitive Damages | Despicable Conduct & Elder Financial Abuse
- August 30, 2018 - Elder Financial Abuse,
California law provides that punitive damages may be recovered when the defendant is guilty of malice, fraud or malice.
Since the code section uses the word “or,” the allegations need only establish one type of conduct.
California law defines malice as “conduct which is intended by the defendant to cause injury to the plaintiff or despicable conduct which is carried on by the defendant with a willful and conscious disregard of the rights or safety of others.”
Imagine that you are on a jury and you hear the following case:
It is early July 2017. John is 78 years old. John is retired. John has memory problems. John’s only income, his retirement, is $400 per month. John owns his home in a San Jose neighborhood. There is no mortgage on John’s home. John’s income is not enough to pay for John’s monthly expenses. John is two months behind on his utility bills.
Charlie, John’s neighbor for the last five years, knows that John has memory and financial problems. Charlie knows that John is vulnerable. Charlie tells John that he wants to help him and loans John $1000, 2.5 times John’s monthly income.
John tells Charlie that he wants to sell his house. Within three weeks Charlie directs the local title company of the details of the transaction, including an extremely low sales price, repayment of the $1000 loan by John, and arranges a hasty close of the sale. Charlie does not tell John’s friends of family about the sale of the property. Charlie requires that John pay all of the closing costs of the sale.
Charlie buys John’s house for $200,000 – one third of the home’s $600,000 fair market value. John does not remember that he sold his home to Charlie. John continues to live in the house. Charlie tries to evict John from his house.
John’s friends help him find lawyers to protect him. John’s lawyers sue Charlie for financial elder abuse. The complaint against Charlie seeks punitive damages against Charlie. The complaint alleges that Charlie’s conduct was despicable and carried out by him with a willful and conscious disregard of the rights or safety of John.
You have now heard this evidence. You hear that one of the determinations that you must make is whether Charlie obtained or deprived Charlie of his property for a wrongful use. You are asked whether Charlie knew or should have known that his conduct would be harmful to John. You and your fellow jurors will consider the facts.
The facts support the truth that John was elderly, vulnerable and was taken advantage of by Charlie. John lost $400,000 in value in the sale of his home. And, at the end of this process you must decide if the facts are true, whether Charlie’s conduct could be viewed as “so vile, base, contemptible, miserable, wretched or loathsome that it would be looked down upon and despised by ordinary decent people.”
You decide. You’re in control.
Is Charlie’s conduct despicable? Should John recover punitive damages against Charlie?
Hackard Law represents beneficiaries in estate, trust and elder financial abuse litigation throughout California, including in Los Angeles, Sacramento, Santa Clara, Alameda, and San Diego. You can call us at 916-313-3030 if this story sounds like something that happened to you.