He Left Five of His Kids in Equal Ownership of Nine Businesses. What Could Go Wrong?

He Left Five of His Kids in Equal Ownership of Nine Businesses. What Could Go Wrong?

This is another extensive opinion with a lot to parse through. The basic facts are that, after the death of Wesley Gilbreath, his business interests were left to five of his six children (Wes Jr., Stacey, Elliot, Brett, and Lisa) and a grandchildren’s trust. Unfortunately, everyone did not play well in the sandbox. The relationships between the children deteriorated to the point that Lisa brought in a corporate psychologist to lead group therapy sessions. Lisa eventually began questioning the business operations, particularly how income was being distributed. The more she pushed to see reports and corporate records, the more her siblings (particularly Wes Jr.) made insinuations about her mental health. Four days after a particularly contentious board meeting, Wes Jr. filed to have Lisa involuntarily committed. After 24 hours in the psychiatric facility, Lisa was released with a note in her chart that she was likely admitted inappropriately. After Lisa’s release, she sued her siblings and the business entities for a wide range of claims including defamation, false imprisonment, fraud, breach of fiduciary duty, and conspiracy. A jury returned verdicts for Lisa on 12 counts, awarding her punitive damages. The judge reduced the damages to comply with the statutory caps. Wes Jr. and the other defendants appealed. The appellate court overturned some of the decisions relating to the business entities but found that there was no evidence presented that demonstrated that Wes Jr. had any probable cause for seeking Lisa’s commitment. Although the court reduced the damages for mental anguish to the statutory cap of $500,000, the defendants argued that Lisa’s mental anguish should not be compensated at the same rate as parents who lose an infant. They sought to further reduce the mental anguish damages. The court notes the traumatic and invasive nature of what Lisa endured and upheld the verdict. The court did overturn the verdict on Lisa’s defamation claims, finding that there was no evidence statements by her siblings caused Lisa’s mental anguish. Finally, the appellate court remanded for the attorney fee award to be re-determined, based on the adjusted verdict.

Note: This is an exceptionally long opinion, and this summary skims the surface of the issues. The opinion may be found here.