The recent decision of a Florida appellate court has shed some light on a little discussed aspect of tort and probate law in the state of Florida. The Third District Court of Appeals ruled in the case of Saewitz v. Saewitz that to sustain a prima facie case for tortious interference with expected inheritance the plaintiff must prove damages.
In this case, two daughters, Mercedes and Brooke Saewitz claimed that while their father was dying their step-mother Lynn Saewitz manipulated their father and tortuously interfered with their inheritance. At trial, the case was dismissed because the trial judge held that the daughters did not prove the damage element required to make a prima facie case of tortious interference. The elements of the cause of action are as follows:
(1) expectancy by the plaintiff to receive an inheritance;
(2) intentional interference with that expectancy by the defendant;
(3) defendant's interference involves tortious conduct;
(4) reasonable certainty that but for the defendant's tortious interference the plaintiff would have his/her expectancy; and
Like any tort or crime, all of the elements must be met in order to sustain the claim. If one of the elements is missing, the plaintiff cannot recover. In the Saewitz case the plaintiffs could not determine with any certainty the value of the property that they claim was tortiously interfered with. At trial, three witnesses testified regarding the value of the property, however no one could provide a specific value of the property at the legally recognizable time. Florida requires that the value of the property be measure at the time of conversion. Since no one testified about when the property was actually converted, there is no proper measuring standard.
Because this tort is relatively new in the state of Florida, those who may be going through probate would need a Florida estate planning attorney to assist them if they believe someone has tortiously interfered with their inheritance. If you questions regarding Florida probate law, contact the Apple Law Firm PLLC and speak with a Jacksonville Probate Litigation Attorney today at (904) 685-1200.