John Steinbeck estate dispute dates back to 1983

A recent story online confirms that the decades-long battle involving the estate of the late John Steinbeck continues. The dispute was between Waverly Scott Kaffaga, and one of John’s sons, Thom, his wife Gail Knight Steinbeck and their company the Palladin Group. Waverly is the daughter of John Steinbeck’s third wife, Elaine.

The dispute dates back to a 1983 agreement that gave Elaine control over John’s works in addition to one third of the proceeds. The other two thirds went to Steinbeck’s two sons. Both sons are now dead.  When Elaine passed away, her rights passed to Waverly. When Thom passed away, Gail continued the lawsuit on behalf his estate.

Waverly alleged that Thom and Gail prevented her from negotiating film adaptations of John Steinbeck’s works, East of Eden and Grapes of Wrath. Her position was that she inherited control over these works when her mother Elaine passed away. At trial, Waverly’s lawyers presented evidence that Gail had sabotaged a proposed adaptation of the East of Eden by Universal that was supposed to star Jennifer Lawrence. Additionally, evidence was presented that Thom had attempted to negotiate a secret deal with DreamWorks over the rights to The Grapes of Wrath.

Gail has refused to accept the 1983 agreement and several Court rulings that upheld it.

Jury awards $13.15 million to John Steinbeck’s stepdaughter

The latest skirmish resulted in a jury awarding $13.15 million to Waverly. U.S. District Judge Terry Hatter had previously ruled in favor of Waverly granting summary judgment in her claims for breach of contract and slander of title.

A jury was tasked with deciding whether Gail interfered with the above-mentioned projects and what damages Waverly was entitled to. The jury awarded Waverly $13.15 million, which was $1.3 million more than what Waverly’s lawyers requested.

Waverly’s was pleased with the verdict. She maintains that the ruling recognizes the estate’s full control of the rights to John Steinbeck’s works.

Although Gail suffered a major loss, she has stated that she intends to appeal the ruling.

It will be interesting to see what happens next in this dispute.

More on this story here.