Appeals Court Reverses on Exemplary Damages in Elder Theft Case

A three-judge panel for the District III Court of Appeals recently issued a ruling in a case involving a woman who stole from money from her late uncle while serving as his caretaker prior to his death. The estate’s representative noticed suspicious activity on the uncle’s bank accounts, and was able to determine that the niece/caretaker has stolen the funds. The uncle’s estate then filed an action against the niece in small claims court, seeking $10,000 in damages, which is typically the statutory limit on damages in small claims court. The circuit court below ordered the niece to pay more than $50,000 in damages and fees to the uncle’s estate, which consisted of $10,000 in actual compensatory damages, $20,000 in exemplary damages, $20,000 in attorney fees, and almost $2,000 in double costs. However, the niece appealed, and the appellate court disagreed with the lower court’s ruling, cutting the damages award to about $6,000.

First, the appellate court found that the estate could only receive exemplary damages in a trial by jury, rather than by the court, as occurred in this case. The court also found that the misappropriation of funds claim filed in small claims court was a tort claim, rather than a civil liability theft case. Therefore, the estate was limited to the small claims cap of $5,000, rather than the $10,000 that the judge had awarded. Likewise, since the appellate court so drastically reduced the damages award in this case to $5000, the estate was not entitled to double statutory costs because its damages award was less than its previously offered settlement amount of $7,500.  Finally, since there was no specific provision to authorize an attorney fees award in this type of litigation, the appellate court overturned the attorney fees awarded by the lower court in this case.

If your loved one has suffered financial abuse at the hands of medical staff at a nursing home or another healthcare provider, you may have a valid claim for damages. This sort of situation makes it essential to contact an experienced Wisconsin nursing home abuse attorney in order to protect your rights and obtain the financial relief that you deserve. Healthcare providers have an obligation under the law to refrain from financially exploiting those whom they are supposed to be protecting. Hold negligent Wisconsin healthcare providers responsible for their actions. Contact Boller & Vaughan today and learn how we can help you.