FindLaw KnowledgeBasePublished: 2012-04-27
A Florida appellate court recently issued a decision regarding a probate cause of action titled “tortious inference with expected inheritance.” While this particular claim is still relatively new in Florida, the appellate court outlined how the failure to prove actual damages may get your Florida probate case dismissed.
Third District Court of Appeals Decision
The facts in the Florida appellate decision were generally straightforward ― following the death of their father, two daughters claimed their stepmother tortiously interfered with their inheritance.
Generally, in order to prove tortious inference with an expected inheritance you must prove the following elements in Florida:
- The existence of some expectancy by the plaintiff involving an inheritance
- The defendant's intentional interference with such expectancy
- Involvement of tortious conduct in the defendant's interference
- Reasonable certainty that the plaintiff's expectancy would have been realized if not for the defendant's interference
In both the trial and appellate courts, the judges appeared to brush over the first four elements, almost seemingly conceding these elements, and instead focused on “damages” ― elaborating on the fact that you need to quantify how you have been damaged no matter how despicable the actions of the wrongdoers. In fact, the court opined:
The daughters' initial brief on this appeal persuasively chronicles the record evidence presented to the jury of manipulative activity taken by their stepmother during their father's dying days and preceding months to contravene their father's wishes with respect to the disposition of his estate. It is apodictic, however, that a plaintiff's initial proof of a prima facie case…requires more than proof of liability. Prima facie proof of damages is required as well.
The court went on to say how damages must be proven to a “reasonable certainty,” and that recovery will be denied if evidence cannot be shown to this certainty.
While this area of the law is still developing, this case surely illustrates the complexities of probate law in Florida. If you believe you may have a probate claim, contact an experience probate litigation attorney in your area to be advised of your rights and options ― the failure to do so may result in your case being dismissed.