Lawrence, Kansas Law Firm

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Appellate ruling changes law on punitive damages

Last week, the Kansas Supreme Court made a significant change to and clarification of the Kansas rules on punitive damages. In an appeal handled by Sarah Warner, the state’s high court ruled our clients—beneficiaries of a testamentary trust—could seek punitive damages against the estate of a trustee who, at the time of his death, had embezzled more than $1 million from the trust. Warner successfully persuaded the Court that punitive damages deter other wrongdoers from engaging in illegal conduct, and that the trustee’s death should not act as a barrier to the recovery of punitive damages, as well as the other statutory damages the law prescribes. In obtaining this reversal of the earlier rulings by the district court and the Court of Appeals, Sarah had to weave together legal arguments involving the intersection of trust law, embezzlement, conversion, statutory interpretation, and public policy.