DALLAS – The heirs of Max Hopper, a deceased American Airlines executive, have come out more than victorious in their suit against banking giant JPMorgan Chase & Co. over allegations of breach of fiduciary duty.

Having been awarded a sum of at least $4 billion in punitive damages by a trial jury in the Probate Court of Dallas County on Sept. 26, the case raises issues about the exorbitant amount of punitive damages granted by juries in the United States.

Receiving the largest probate damage award in the state’s history, the two adult children and widow Jo Hopper were granted $4.7 million in actual damages with the remainder falling under the punitive damages umbrella for emotional distress, according to a press release issued by Loewinsohn Flegle Deary Simon, the widow's law firm. The plaintiffs also used a provision for financial institutions that commit fraud for their record-breaking win.

Jo Hopper was granted more than $1 million in compensatory damages while the children received $3.6 million each. An additional $2 billion each was provided to both the widow and the children for punitive damages.

Hopper’s estate was placed with the defendant, who allegedly greatly mishandled the funds. Hopper, who helped pioneer American Airlines’ electronic ticketing system, left $19 million in assets but neglected to sign a will. Upon his death from stroke in 2010, the Hopper children and his wife put the matter into JPMorgan Chase’s hands, though they now allege that the company missed deadlines to eat into the inheritance for their own legal costs, the law firm's press release states. 

The U.S. Supreme Court states that any punitive damages granted over 10 times the amount of actual damages violates the defendant’s due process. Some speculators believe that if forced to pay the damages, which are over 800 times the actual damages, it would wipe out the institution, according to Law360.  

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