Tortious Interference and related Probate (Estate) and Trust Litigation in St. Petersburg, Clearwater, Tampa, Sarasota, Pinellas County, and surrounding West Florida areas.
Quite similar to undue influence claims, a cause of action for tortious interference with an expectancy acts as a remedy for a wrongfully or fraudulently removed beneficiary. The primary difference between undue influence claims and tortious interference claims is that the former is an action in equity, while the latter is an action at law.
Actions in equity, like undue influence claims, seek a judicial declaration from the court. For example, an undue influence action, petitioners are typically seeking a declaration from the court that the subject will or trust is invalid as being the product of undue influence. In contrast, tortious interference claims (action at law) are filed directly against the alleged tortfeasor, or undue influencer, and seek specific money damages.
While the two actions on their face may appear to be synonymous, they can be used to achieve different purposes and can be more strategically used under certain circumstances. To better illustrate the differing effects between the two causes of action, imagine a scenario in which a wrongfully removed beneficiary challenged a will or trust, but the monies which comprised the will or trust had already been wrongfully distributed by the undue influencer. Under this scenario, a declaration from the court that the will or trust was invalid would be an inadequate remedy for the wrongfully removed beneficiary as no money remains within the subject will or trust. In this situation, a client would be better served by filing an action for tortious interference, demanding a money judgment directly against the tortfeasor (the undue influencer).
Another key difference is that actions for tortious interference entitle the claimant to a jury, while actions for undue influence do not.
Lastly, Florida courts have expressed a preference that actions be determined in equity, with the alternative tort only be allowed in circumstances in which no adequate, alternative remedy exists. That being said, there are various circumstances that render an ordinary declaratory action inadequate. It is quite common for claimants to assert causes of action for both undue influence and tortious interference, and wait to elect which option to pursue until such time that additional information can be obtained through discovery.
If you have questions or concerns regarding potential tortious interference, please contact our office, as our attorneys routinely deal with tortious interference claims within the courts of St. Petersburg, Clearwater, Tampa, Sarasota, Pinellas County, and the surrounding West Florida areas.