This latest verdict may cause more litigation by scorned spouses. Regardless, think 30 million times before you decide to have an affair with a married person in North Carolina. Last year, Cynthia Shackelford was awarded $9 million in an alienation of affections case by a Greensboro jury.
Alienation of Affection and Criminal Conversation are tort claims that can be brought in civil court in North Carolina, which is one of only about eight states that recognize such suits. North Carolina has made national and international news with huge verdicts in these types of cases. North Carolina is one of the few states in the US that allows such lawsuits.
In April 2011, Superior Court Judge Carl J. Fox awarded $30 million to Carol Puryer in an alienation of affections case in what is now the largest such verdict in the State of North Carolina. In this most recent case, the Defendant, Betty Devin, who was alleged to be Donald Puryer’s mistress and is now his current wife, was ordered to pay more than $10 million in compensatory damages and an additional $20 million in punitive damages to Carol Puryear, the ex-wife in this Wake County case.
Carol and Donald Puryear were divorced in early 2009 after a 15-year marriage. The alleged mistress, Devin, stayed just outside the courthouse refusing to enter the courthouse for the hearing. She did not appear in the courtroom for the trial on Monday and was not represented by an attorney during the hearing which was held without a jury.
According to an attorney who represented the wife, Carol Puryear, the lawsuit which resulted in a $30 million verdict was not about the money but rather it was to make a point that “people should be held accountable for their actions.”
Our legislature changed the alienation of affections and criminal conversation law on these torts in 2009 so that girlfriends and boyfriends of separated spouses could no longer be sued for dating after a legal separation and before divorce. Prior to this change, a husband or wife could sue the new girlfriend or boyfriend for having sex with their spouse even while legally separated but before the divorce.
While some individuals have speculated that the $30 million amount is irrelevant because the alleged mistress likely does not have the money to pay it, the mistriss will have to live under the threat of an execution to pay the judgment for up to twenty years.