SPRINGFIELD, Ga. -- An Effingham County State Court jury has awarded $4 million to a Maryland man in the largest verdict in that court’s history.
After the three-day trial, a jury awarded on Wednesday compensatory and punitive damages to Steven Patrick, of Baltimore, for damages he suffered from his brother’s handling of their aunt’s finances.
Steven Patrick sued his brother, Charles M. Patrick and his sister-in-law, Drusilla W. Patrick, after discovering money missing from his late aunt, Thelma Patrick Peterson, of Rincon, near Savannah.
Ashleigh Madison, a Savannah attorney with Southeast Law, LLC representing Steve Patrick, said that Peterson had no children and was cared for by Charles Patrick, who also lived in Rincon.
Peterson named Steven Patrick as the primary beneficiary of her estate in a will dated Sept. 4, 2009. A previous will listed both Charles and Steven Patrick as equal beneficiaries for the majority of her estate. Peterson died on Dec. 5, 2010 and Steven Patrick was named as executor in 2011.
When Charles Patrick began to care for his aunt in the early part of the decade, she had over $1 million in a brokerage account, Madison said.
Steven Patrick had to step in and take over his aunt’s care in 2009 when Charles Patrick pleaded guilty to possessing child pornography and was sentenced to 78 months in federal prison.
After some digging, Steven Patrick realized Peterson’s account had been depleted, Madison said.
“By right at about $1 million,” Madison said.
The lawsuit claimed Charles Patrick and his wife committed fraud, breached the fiduciary duty owed to Peterson and converted Peterson’s money for their own benefit and without her permission.
Madison said a neighbor testified that Peterson appeared to have also been neglected.
“She (Peterson) would call them to bring her meals,” Madison said. “She appeared to be very weak.”
The jury awarded $500,000 in compensatory damages against Charles Patrick and $2 million in punitive damages.
The jury also held Drusilla Patrick accountable, believing that while she may not have taken the funds, she had knowledge of what was happening, Madison said.
The jury awarded $500,000 in compensatory damages against Drusilla Patrick and $1 million in punitive damages.
The defense stated that the withdrawals were for a $2,800 per month stipend given to Charles Patrick for his aunt, Madison said.
Madison noted that if even one assumed that to be true, the monthly amount over the time period would only amount to about $200,000.
Effingham County Superior Clerk of Court Elizabeth Hursey confirmed Wednesday the award was the State Court’s largest.