Dara Bradley has defined the term “last laugh” for all women who were ever lied to by their husband. She sued her lying, cheating, and allegedly abusive husband in court, and won $469,000 in damages! The Maryland appeals court just upheld the judgment, and may have paved the way for similar lawsuits. So now all Maryland men have one more reason not to lie to your wife – she may sue you!
Now the lies that Ronald Bradley told are not typical. He went a lot further than simply cheating and being dishonest. He ruined Dara Bradley’s life with his deception. It is unlikely that anyone will have much sympathy for him. But this case is still one that will raise eyebrows, and we wonder if the legal foundation it sets will lead to more lawsuits in less extreme circumstances. It raises the question whether this sort of dispute really belongs in the civil courts at all.
Dara was a nurse who met Ronald Bradley in 2003 while caring for Ronald’s son. Ronald told Dara that he was separated from his wife, and had filed divorce proceedings. Dara and Ronald began dating, and they moved in together. Ronald asked Dara to quit her full-time nursing job to stay home and care for his children, which she did. Ronald actually proposed to Dara but asked her to keep it a secret so it wouldn’t prolong his delayed divorce proceedings. All this time, Ronald claimed he was trying to divorce his wife. He told Dara that his wife was being difficult and that he had to hire a new lawyer. At one point he claimed the divorce was delayed because his lawyer had a heart attack. Finally, in September 2006, he announced that his divorce was final. He produced a plaque that contained a “Judgment of Absolute Divorce” which included a gold seal and forged signatures. In October, he again proposed to Dara – in public this time.
The couple was married in Las Vegas in April 2007 before 30 of Dara’s friends and family who traveled for the ceremony. It didn’t take long for the magic to disappear. There were alleged incidents of abuse, which caused Dara to search Ronald’s online court records. She saw no record of his divorce. She hired an attorney who confirmed that Ronald was never divorced. When confronted, Ronald confessed that he was, in fact, still married to his first wife. Dara did not take the news well, as may be expected. She began treatment with a psychiatrist, and tried to go back to work, but could only find a part-time nursing job. Despite all this, she tried to reconcile with Ronald. She wanted him to divorce his first wife, annul their marriage, reimburse the wedding guests for their expenses in attending the sham wedding, and “re-marry” her. He did not fulfill her demands. So she sued him for annulment, and later included tort (injury) claims in that case – including intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress, intentional and negligent misrepresentation, and battery. Ronald’s lawyer withdrew from the case, and he apparently defended himself during the 4-day trial. The jury found in her favor to the tune of $469,000.
The intermediate appeals court upheld the judgment, finding there was enough evidence for the jury to make its award. While Maryland does not recognize a claim for breach of a promise to marry, these claims were really for lying and inflicting emotional distress, and the damages this caused Dara. Those were legitimate claims under Maryland law. We just usually see them in other cases, like contract claims. It will be interesting to see if this opinion stands up on further appeal. Maryland’s highest court (The Court of Appeals) has not heard the case yet.
It will also be interesting to see if this case will lead to other lawsuits against lying, cheating spouses beyond the usual divorce action. If every spouse who is betrayed is allowed to sue for tort claims, they may have to create new courts to handle the workload! I suspect the Court of Appeals will take the case and probably provide some clear limits on such causes of action. The intermediate appellate case relied on several “technicalities”, like whether Ronald should have made motions during the trial to preserve issues on appeal.
Their opinion leaves lots of open questions to my mind. Can you only do this to a bigamist like Ronald Bradley? What about an unfaithful spouse? Is this only going to be allowed when the damages are severe, like they were to Dara Bradley? She was induced to quit her job and ended up in psychotherapy. She invited 30 friends and family to travel to Las Vegas for what was a sham wedding. This man most definitely ruined her life. What about the more “usual” set of circumstances we find in divorce fights? Will other sets of facts support a tort claim and judgment approaching half a million dollars?
Every seasoned lawyer knows that these new appellate cases will always spur more litigation designed to test the boundaries and limits of any new right to sue. There seem to be a never ending parade of new factual scenarios that allow for creative lawyering, and new appellate cases for bloggers like me to write about. This case, and its set of facts, are certainly interesting from a legal perspective.