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IF YOU ARE SUED FOR TORTIOUS INTERFERENCE WITH AN INHERITANCE, WILL YOUR UMBRELLA POLICY COVER YOU?: a look at a very recent tortuous interference with inheritance case from Washington

Uncategorized Dec 20, 2013

If somebody interferes with your inheritance,  and if you suffer damages, then you may sue them in Florida and attempt to recover damages. This lawsuit is often referred to as tortious interference with an expectancy, or, tortious interference with an inheritance.

If somebody purposefully commits undue influence, or if somebody intentionally causes you to be disinherited, you may have a Florida inheritance lawsuit . Like Florida, other states permit a victim who has had their inheritance eliminated or reduced to seek damages against the wrongdoer. In short, Florida permits you, a prior beneficiary, or an heir, family member, or current beneficiary to sue someone and seek damages if that person interfered with your inheritance.

So, one question for probate litigators becomes:  can you recover money from the insurance company of the person you’re suing for tortious interference with an inheritance? What if somebody intentionally interferes with you receiving an inheritance? You sue them and you when at trial in a Florida probate court. Who pays you your damages for winning this inheritance fight?

Consider this, if your estate litigator has not already discussed this with you. Today, it is quite common for people to carry liability insurance. Liability insurance is sometimes an ad-on, or addition to, for example, an existing homeowners policy. Sometimes it is referred to as umbrella coverage, or an umbrella policy, to protect the insured from general liability.

So, the question becomes, in Florida, if you win an intentional interference with an inheritance trial, if the person you sue has umbrella coverage, can you get that person’s insurance company to pay you your money?

In a very recent Superior Court case in the state of Washington, a court dealt with that very issue: does a general liability policy for insurance cover tortious interference with an expectancy? What did this recent court talk about and say?

The Washington court discussed the particulars of the defendant’s insurance policy, and whether tortious interference with an expectancy would be covered by the policy. We will leave that commentary to the Florida insurance experts.  But more interesting was the court’s consideration of whether tortious interference with an expectancy required you proving at trial that the person who harmed you committed the bad acts by “intentional conduct“, versus “reckless” conduct, or merely “negligent” conduct. Why does this even matter?

First, if you are suing somebody to recover your inheritance, an important part of your case, an important part of any estate inheritance trial, is the ability to get paid if you prevail or win. If you win, does the defendant, does the wrongdoer, does the person you are suing, have the ability to pay your damages that a probate court awards you? This is an important part of probate litigation trial strategy. Who cares if you when, if you can’t collect damages? So, it may be an important part of your probate lawsuit strategy to learn whether the defendant has insurance coverage to pay you your damages. Okay, that’s easy. You can conduct some limited financial discovery and you should be able to learn whether the person you are suing for tortious interference with an expectancy has insurance. If they do, your probate lawyer, your trial attorney, will need to make a decision on whether or not to attempt to bring the insurance company into the lawsuit. But where is this going?

Okay, here’s the point. Most liability policies, most umbrella policies, most general liability insurance, does not cover intentional acts. Put another way: if tortious interference with an expectancy is “an intentional tort”, then the insurance company, depending upon the language in the policy, most probably will not have to pay damages if you win at your inheritance trial. Probably: no coverage. So, what did the Washington court say about this anyway?

The court said: “No Washington case has adopted the tort of interference with expected inheritance, although other jurisdictions have recognized this tort or extended the tort of interference with a business expectancy to include inheritance expectancy. Washington recognizes the tort of interference with a business or economic expectancy, which consists of five elements: (1) existence of a valid contractual relationship or business expectancy, (2) defendants had knowledge of that relationship, (3) intentional interference inducing or causing a breach or termination of the relationship or expectancy, (4) defendants interfered for an improper purpose or used improper means, and (5) resultant damage.” The opinion from this recent case suggests that “Washington has not yet recognized tortious interference with expected inheritance.” This is an important distinction between Florida inheritance law, and Washington law. Why?

Florida law absolutely recognizes the cause of action of tortious interference with an inheritance. In Florida, probate courts and civil trial courts regularly here trials on tortious interference with a number of relationships, such as business relationships. These Florida courts also here trials about tortious interference with an expectancy, also referred to as tortious interference with an inheritance. If you’ve been disinherited, if your inheritance has been diminished, or decreased by somebody doing bad things, such as cutting you out of the will, committing fraud, or undue influence, you may have a lawsuit to recover your inheritance. The law provides many remedies for you, and merely one of them is having a trial in a lawsuit on tortious interference with an expectancy or inheritance.

So what happened in the Washington case of tortious interference with an inheritance? The court stated, in its legal opinion, that the allegations of tortious interference with an inheritance in the complaint that was filed contained or included “allegations [which] involve intentional or deliberate conduct.” Washington, or least that particular court, has now sided with Florida in holding that tortious interference with an inheritance is an “intentional” tort. As such, the Washington court found that the general liability policy at issue did not provide a defense to, and did not cover, intentional conduct. No coverage.

Back in Florida, whether you are in the probate court, or the civil division, if you have a trial, or lawsuit, regarding an inheritance, you should consider whether you may bring a lawsuit for tortious interference with an inheritance. If your probate litigator, or your estate litigator, decides to bring a lawsuit in Florida for tortious interference with an inheritance, consider where you will get paid if you win. Does the defendant that you are suing for tortious interference have general liability insurance coverage? Can you bring in the defendant’s insurance company and general liability policy? Is there coverage? Can you get under the umbrella? Advocate hard. Litigate smart.