presumption of unfairness

In In re Estate of Hogan, a father executed a new will, leaving his estate to one of his sons (Harold) and disinheriting his other son (Gary). No. 11-20-00170-CV, 2022 Tex. App. LEXIS 3863 (Tex. App.—Eastland June 9, 2022, no pet. history). Gary filed a will contest, and the trial court heard same in a bench trial. After the court ruled against Gary, he appealed.

Parties often add limitation-of-liability clauses to their agreements. These types of clauses can purport to limit a party’s claims or damages or both.  Damage-limitation clauses can take many different forms. For example, such a clause may forbid the recovery of consequential or loss profits damages. Cont’l Holdings, Ltd. v. Leahy, 132 S.W.3d 471, 475-76 (Tex. App.—Eastland 2003, no pet.). Further, a contractual provision setting an upper limit on the amount recoverable is a limitation of liability provision. Arthur’s Garage, Inc. v. Racal-Chubb Sec. Sys., 997 S.W.2d 803, 810 (Tex. App.—Dallas 1999, no pet.); Fox Elec. Co. v. Tone Guard Sec., Inc., 861 S.W.2d 79, 83 (Tex. App.—Fort Worth 1993, no writ). If a plaintiff brings suit, the terms of the contract determine the relative positions of the parties and control the level of liability of either party. Federated Dept. Stores, Inc. v. Houston Lighting & Power Co., 646 S.W.2d 509, 511 (Tex. App.—Houston [1st Dist.] 1982, no writ).

In Adam v. Marcos, an attorney and his client agreed to a joint venture/partnership. No. 14-18-00450-CV, 2021 Tex. App. LEXIS 2060 (Tex. App.—Houston March 18, 2021, no pet. history). The attorney sued the client for breaching the agreement. The trial court ruled for the client on the attorney’s breach of the partnership agreement claim and a breach of fiduciary duty claim. The court of appeals affirmed. The court of appeals first held that the partnership agreement was presumptively invalid because the attorney owed fiduciary duties to the client when it was entered into:

Contracts between attorneys and their clients negotiated during the existence of the attorney-client relationship are closely scrutinized. Because the relationship is fiduciary in nature, there is a presumption of unfairness or invalidity attaching to such contracts. The burden is on the attorney to prove the fairness and reasonableness of the agreement. Moreover, as a fiduciary, Marcos had the burden to establish that Adam was informed of all material facts relating to the agreement. Additional important factors in determining the fairness of a transaction involving a fiduciary include whether the consideration was adequate and whether the beneficiary obtained independent advice.

Id. The court of appeals held that the jury’s finding of breach of duty by the attorney supported invalidating the partnership agreement: “Because the jury found that Marcos failed to fulfill his fiduciary duties to Adam in regard to the alleged partnership agreement, and the evidence supports that finding, the presumption that the contract was invalid applies. Thus, the trial court did not err in holding the agreement was invalid and unenforceable.” Id.

In In re Estate of Klutts, a son held his mother’s power of attorney when he assisted in securing a new 2008 will, which enhanced his share of the estate. No. 02-18-00356-CV, 2019 Tex. App. LEXIS 11063 (Tex. App.—Fort Worth December 19, 2019, no pet. history). Siblings attempted to

In In re Estate of Boyle, beneficiaries sued a trustee for mismanagement for allegedly transferring trust assets to entities in which the trustee’s employees had an interest. No. 11-13-00151-CV, 2014 Tex. App. LEXIS 13553 (Tex. App.—Eastland December 19, 2014, no pet.). The court of appeals held that when a