Who Can be Sued for Breach of Fiduciary Duty?
Someone who owes, and breaches, a fiduciary duty in a manner that causes injury to the beneficiary.*
*As long as the legal elements of the claim are met.
BREACH OF FIDUCIARY DUTY IS A TORT IN CALIFORNIA
Under California law, breach of a fiduciary duty is a tort (a civil wrong). When the required elements are met, the injured party can bring a claim for damages (including a claim in court, via a lawsuit) against the wrongdoer.
Any person with a fiduciary duty to another can be liable for damages if the fiduciary breaches his/her/its duty, and the breach causes damages.
WHAT IS A FIDUCIARY RELATIONSHIP?
A fiduciary relationship usually is created when:
- A relationship exists between two or more people (or legal entities) that the law customarily considers a fiduciary relationship
- A person (or entity) has or accepts a legal duty to advise or act on behalf of another (a “beneficiary”) with regard to certain matters
- A beneficiary places special trust in the knowledge or integrity of another person or entity (the fiduciary), and, as a result of that trust, the fiduciary acquires a superior position or influence (compared with the beneficiary).
Examples of fiduciary relationships include:
- attorney-client relationships (fiduciary: the lawyer)
- agent-principal relationships (fiduciary: the agent)
WHAT IS A “FIDUCIARY DUTY”?
The term “fiduciary duty” actually refers to a bundle of duties a fiduciary owes to the person or entity for whose benefit, or with whose trust, the fiduciary acts or serves. Generally, a fiduciary has a duty to act with the highest degree of good faith and care, in the best interests of the other party and for the benefit of the other party, with regard to all matters that fall within the fiduciary relationship. This includes a variety of more specific duties. Some examples include:
- Putting the beneficiary’s interests before the fiduciary’s own interests (when dealing with the subject matter of the fiduciary relationship)
- Reporting to the beneficiary and keeping the beneficiary informed of relevant information
- Making regular accountings to the beneficiary (either financial or otherwise, as appropriate)
WHAT IS A BREACH OF FIDUCIARY DUTY?
To prevail on a legal claim for breach of fiduciary duty, a plaintiff must prove:
- A fiduciary relationship exists;
- The fiduciary breached his, her, or its duties as a fiduciary;
- The beneficiary (plaintiff) was damaged by the breach.
While this might seem straightforward, analysis of legal claims can be complex, and the law has specific requirements with regard to proof, damages, and the admissibility of evidence. If you believe someone who owed you a fiduciary duty (like a lawyer or the trustee of a trust) violated that duty, and you were damaged as a result, consult an experienced lawyer immediately for an evaluation of your legal rights.
Disclaimer: THIS ARTICLE IS FOR INFORMATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY, AND DOES NOT CONSTITUTE LEGAL ADVICE OR CREATE AN ATTORNEY-CLIENT RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE AUTHOR OR ROSS LAW AND ANY PERSON. Your legal rights and experiences may vary. Never use an online article (including this one) to evaluate your legal rights or claims. Consult an experienced attorney promptly to obtain a personalized evaluation of your claims, potential damages, and the various legal rights and options available to you.
You may lose or compromise your rights if you delay in consulting legal counsel. Most legal claims (and defenses), as well as legal and court procedures, are complicated and fact-dependent. If you believe you have a claim against someone who injured you, a lawyer who represented you in a previous lawsuit, or any other legal claim, consult an experienced lawyer immediately for an evaluation of your individual rights and claims.