March 2018 – Jack Owen – Sometimes Your Case is Worth Just a Buck

The Alabama Court of Civil Appeals has recently affirmed the award of a $1 verdict in a tort claim case. The plaintiff, an elderly lady, was the former live-in companion of a Montgomery resident, who died in 2015. His will appointed his two daughters as personal representatives and left the bulk of his estate to them, but also allowed his companion the right to remain in his house for up to 90 days.

The daughters did not enjoy a particularly warm relationship with their father’s companion, and soon after his death, the companion and her family made it plain that they were not welcome in their father’s Montgomery house while she remained in residence. Needing access to the house for purposes of estate administration, the daughters tried to arrange a convenient date and time to show an estate sale agent the personal property, in anticipation of a sale. The companion and her son objected, and threatened the daughters with arrest for trespass if they came to the house. The daughters came as indicated, accompanied by the local police to keep the peace.

Two days later, the companion suffered a heart attack, and thereafter secured a temporary restraining order barring the daughters from the house, and sought an injunction and damages for allegedly stressing her to the point of heart attack.

The defendants secured orders lifting the TRO and denying the companion’s request for an injunction, and her tort claims went to trial in March of 2017. After 4 days of testimony, and a half hour of deliberation, the Montgomery County jury awarded the companion $1.

The $1 verdict and judgment were affirmed on appeal, with the Court of Civil Appeals citing Courtesy Ford Sales, Inc. v. Hendrix, 536 So.2d 88 (Ala. Civ. App. 1988), as precedent to support affirming the award. BBMN partner Tabor Novak had represented Courtesy Ford in the Hendrix case. The Court also rejected the companion’s effort to establish a “beneficiary’s exception” to the attorney-client privilege existing between the daughters and their counsel.

BBMN partner Jack Owen, together with Mobile attorney John McClurkin, represented the daughters in this interesting case, which is reported as Caplan v. Benator, 2018 Ala. Civ. App. LEXIS 44 (March 2018), 2018 WL 1354745.