Justia Injury Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Delaware Supreme Court
In RE: Asbestos Litigation
In this appeal, the issue presented for the Delaware Supreme Court's review was whether the Superior Court abused its discretion when it accepted the Special Master’s report denying the plaintiffs a second extension to move the trial date. To warrant the extension, the plaintiffs had to show good cause. According to the court, the plaintiffs failed to show good cause because they were not diligent in meeting Texas law requirements for asbestos exposure claims, the time pressures faced by counsel were foreseeable, counsel should not have missed deadlines, and, under the circumstances, refusing to grant another trial date extension was not unfair. On appeal, the plaintiffs tried to switch to a new standard to evaluate the Superior Court’s decision. The Delaware Supreme Court, however, declined to do so. "The Superior Court applied the law correctly and based its findings on the record and reason. There was no abuse of discretion, and we affirm." View "In RE: Asbestos Litigation" on Justia Law
Washington v. Delaware Transit Corp
Claimant LeShawn Washington suffered an injury to his left shoulder in a work-related incident in 2016 and was placed on disability. Upon returning to work, he claimed that his shoulder symptoms had worsened. Claimant filed a petition seeking compensation for a recurrence of temporary total disability (the “TTD Petition”), which the Accident Board (the “IAB”) denied (the “TTD Opinion”). Claimant then filed a permanent impairment ("PI") Petition. Claimant's employer, Delaware Transit Corporation, successfully moved to dismiss, arguing the IAB had previously ruled on the matter during Claimant’s TTD Petition hearing when it stated that Claimant had “fully recovered” from his work injury. In preparing for the hearing on the PI Petition, both parties obtained medical expert opinions regarding the degree of Claimant’s permanent impairment. Both parties’ experts agreed that there was some degree of permanent impairment. Nevertheless, DTC moved to dismiss the PI Petition at the commencement of the hearing. The IAB agreed with the employer, and dismissed the PI petition on those grounds, before considering the permanent impairment testimony. Claimant appealed the IAB’s decision to the Superior Court, arguing that the IAB never concluded that he had “fully recovered.” Furthermore, Claimant argued: (1) the Superior Court erred in concluding that the Board had reasonably interpreted the TTD Opinion; and (2) the Superior Court erred as a matter of law in holding that the Board’s dismissal of his PI Petition was supported by substantial evidence. The Delaware Supreme Court held the Superior Court erred in affirming the Board’s decision to deny Claimant’s PI Petition. "Although the Board is permitted to interpret its own orders and rulings, the Board erred when it dismissed Claimant’s PI Petition based solely on the expert testimony presented in connection with his TTD Petition." The decision was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Washington v. Delaware Transit Corp" on Justia Law
USAA Casualty Ins. Co. v. Carr
USAA Casualty Insurance Company (“USAA”) sought a declaratory judgment that it was not obligated to defend, indemnify, or provide insurance coverage for claims made in two lawsuits against Trinity Carr, the daughter of a USAA homeowner’s-insurance policyholder. The plaintiffs in the underlying lawsuits sought money damages from Carr and others for personal injuries and wrongful death suffered by Amy Joyner-Francis in a physical altercation - described in both complaints as a “brutal, senseless, forseeable [sic] and preventable attack” - between Joyner-Francis and Carr and her friends. USAA argued at trial, as it did before the Delaware Supreme Court, that the incident - whether it be labeled an altercation, an attack, or otherwise - was not an “accident” and therefore not a covered occurrence under the policy and that, even if it were, the purported liability was excluded from coverage. The Superior Court disagreed and entered summary judgment in favor of Carr. The Delaware Supreme Court agreed with USAA’s interpretation of the relevant policy provisions and therefore reversed the Superior Court’s judgment. "To label an intentional assault, as the parties agree occurred here, an accident is to disregard the ordinary, everyday meaning of 'accident.' We thus hold that whether an assault is an 'accident' is determined by the intent of the insured, and not by the viewpoint of the victim. ... even though Carr may not have intended to cause [the victim's] death, she certainly intended to cause injury to her." View "USAA Casualty Ins. Co. v. Carr" on Justia Law
Powell v. OTAC, Inc.
Stephen Powell appealed a Delaware Industrial Accident Board ("IAB") decision to deny his petition for workers' compensation benefits. Powell alleged he sufered a work injury in 2016 while employed by OTAC, Inc. d/b/a Hardee’s (“Hardees”). The IAB held a hearing regarding Powell’s petition in 2018. The IAB heard testimony by deposition from a doctor on Powell’s behalf and from a doctor on Hardees’ behalf. It also heard live testimony from a Hardees General Manager and from Powell himself. After the hearing, the IAB denied Powell’s petition, ruling that he had failed to establish that he injured his rotator cuff while working at Hardees. The IAB concluded that the testimony and evidence was “insufficient to support a finding that Claimant’s injuries were causally related to his work for [Hardees].” Specifically, the IAB noted that both Powell’s “inability to report a specific day of injury” as well as his “failure to seek medical treatment immediately” after the alleged incident detracted from his credibility. Further, it found that although “both medical experts agreed that [Powell’s] treatment was reasonable for his rotator cuff tear, there was insufficient evidence that the rotator cuff tear occurred as the result of the alleged work accident." Powell argued on appeal to the Delaware Supreme Court: (1) the Board erred as a matter of law in denying his petition, and he claims that he did present sufficient evidence to demonstrate that his injuries occurred while working at Hardees; and (2) the Superior Court erred in affirming the IAB’s decision and that it exceeded the scope of review by making findings of fact unsupported by the record. After review of the IAB and Superior Court record, the Delaware Supreme Court affirmed. View "Powell v. OTAC, Inc." on Justia Law
Ford Motor Company v. Knecht, et al.
Plaintiff-appellee Paula Knecht, individually and as executrix of the estate of her late husband, Larry Knecht filed suit against 18 defendants alleging defendants failed to warn Mr. Knecht of the dangers of asbestos. During his lifetime, Mr. Knecht developed mesothelioma from exposure to asbestos. While the case was awaiting trial, Mr. Knecht passed away. When the trial date arrived, there was only one remaining defendant appellant Ford Motor Company. A jury held Ford liable for Mr. Knecht's illness and awarded damages. Negligence was apportioned between the parties, Ford was assigned a 20% share of the total negligence. The trial judge then applied 20% to the $40,625,000 damages award and arrived at a compensatory damages award against Ford of $8,125,000. The jury also awarded plaintiff $1,000,000 in punitive damages. After the jury returned its verdict, Ford filed two motions: (1) a renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law under Superior Court Rule 50(b) or, in the alternative, a new trial; and (2) a motion for a new trial, or, in the alternative, remittitur. The trial judge denied both motions. On appeal to the Delaware Supreme Court, Ford argued: (1) the Superior Court erred by not granting Ford judgment as a matter of law on the ground that plaintiff failed to prove that Mr. Knecht’s injury was caused by Ford’s failure to warn of the dangers of asbestos; (2) the Superior Court erred by not granting a new trial on the ground that the jury rendered an irreconcilably inconsistent verdict; and (3) the Superior Court erred by not granting a new trial or remittitur on the ground that the compensatory damages verdict is excessive. The Supreme Court concluded the Superior Court’s rulings against Ford on the first two claims were correct. However, the Court concurred the third contention had merit, reversed judgment and remanded to the Superior Court for further consideration of Ford’s motion for a new trial, or, in the alternative, remittitur. View "Ford Motor Company v. Knecht, et al." on Justia Law
Christiana Care Health Services Inc. v. Carter, et al.
Appellant Christiana Care Health Services, Inc. (“CCHS”) brought an interlocutory appeal of a Superior Court decision to deny its motion for partial summary judgment. The alleged medical negligence at issue in the underlying case occurred during surgery performed on Margaret Rackerby Flint at Christiana Care Hospital, which is operated by CCHS. The surgery allegedly caused her death two days later. The complaint was filed by Meeghan Carter, Ms. Flint’s daughter, individually and as administratrix of Ms. Flint’s estate. It named as defendants Dr. Michael Principe, who performed the surgery, Dr. Eric Johnson, who assisted him, and CCHS. Later, the medical practices of the two doctors were added as defendants. The sole claim against CCHS was that the two doctors were its agents and it is vicariously liable for their alleged negligence. Mediation resolved claims against Dr. Principe and his medical practice. As part of that settlement, plaintiff signed a release which released all such claims. CCHS was not a party to the settlement or the release. Following that settlement, CCHS filed its motion for partial summary judgment against plaintiff on the theory that the release of Dr. Principe released it from any vicarious liability for Dr. Principe’s alleged negligence. The Superior Court denied the motion. CCHS argued: (1) the release of an agent released a vicarious liability claim against the principal as a matter of law; and (2) the terms of the release which plaintiff signed when she settled with Dr. Principe and his medical practice also released it from liability for Dr. Principe’s conduct. The Delaware Supreme Court agreed with CCHS’s second contention, finding that the written release operated as a complete satisfaction of plaintiff’s vicarious liability claim against CCHS arising from Dr. Principe’s alleged conduct, and the motion for partial summary judgment should have been granted. View "Christiana Care Health Services Inc. v. Carter, et al." on Justia Law
Richards v. Copes-Vulcan, Inc., et al.
Ohio residents Craig Richards and his wife Gloria filed suit against defendants in the Delaware, claiming that Mr. Richards’ exposure to asbestos-containing products at home and in the workplace caused his mesothelioma. The parties agreed that Ohio law applied to this case. To make the causal link between Mr. Richards’ asbestos exposure and his disease, the Richards served an expert report relying on a cumulative exposure theory, meaning that every non-minimal exposure to asbestos attributable to each defendant combined to cause Mr. Richards’ injury. After the Richards served their expert report, the Ohio Supreme Court decided Schwartz v. Honeywell International, Inc. , 102 N.E.3d 477 (Ohio 2018). In Schwartz, the Ohio Supreme Court rejected an expert’s cumulative exposure theory for a number of reasons, including its inconsistency with an Ohio asbestos causation statute. The Richards’ attorneys became aware of the Schwartz decision during summary judgment briefing. Instead of asking for leave to serve a supplemental expert report based on another theory of causation, the Richards argued in opposition to summary judgment that the Ohio asbestos causation statute and the Schwartz decision did not require any expert report. According to the Richards, as long as there was factual evidence in the record showing, in the words of the Ohio statute, the manner, proximity, frequency, and length of exposure to asbestos, summary judgment should have been denied. The Superior Court disagreed and held that, to defeat summary judgment, the Richards had to still offer expert medical evidence of specific causation, meaning that the asbestos exposure attributable to each defendant caused Mr. Richards’ mesothelioma. The Superior Court also denied reargument and found untimely the Richards’ later attempt to supplement their expert report. The Richards appealed the Superior Court’s dismissal rulings, arguing that the court misinterpreted Ohio law, and should have granted them leave to supplement their expert report after the court’s summary judgment rulings. As the Delaware Supreme Court read the Ohio asbestos causation statute and Ohio Supreme Court precedent, neither the Ohio General Assembly nor the Court intended to abrogate the general rule in Ohio in toxic tort cases that a plaintiff must provide expert medical evidence “(1) that the toxin is capable of causing the medical condition or ailment (general causation), and (2) that the toxic substance in fact caused the claimant’s medical condition (specific causation).” Thus, the Supreme Court determined the Superior Court correctly concluded expert medical evidence on specific causation had to be offered by the Richards to avoid summary judgment. The Superior Court also did not abuse its discretion in denying reargument and the Richards’ request to supplement their expert report after the court’s summary judgment ruling. View "Richards v. Copes-Vulcan, Inc., et al." on Justia Law
Delaware v. Gates
The State of Delaware appealed a superior court order that affirmed a determination by the Industrial Accident Board (the Board) that Nicholas Gates was working within the course and scope of his employment when he was injured in a motor vehicle collision. At the time of the collision, Gates was employed by the State as a road-maintenance equipment operator for the Department of Transportation (DelDOT). The collision occurred while he was responding to a “call-back” after his normal work hours. He was called back to attend to a roadside accident. Gates sought workers’ compensation benefits from the State for his injury. At the hearing before the Board, the State argued that State of Delaware Merit Rule 4.16 1 and a document titled “Call-Back Pay Guidelines and Recommended Procedure” (the Call-Back Pay Guidelines) were part of Gates’s employment contract. According to these provisions, Gates was not to be paid for a call-back until he arrived at the DelDOT yard. Because Gates’s collision occurred before he arrived at the yard, the State argued, his injury occurred outside the course and scope of his employment and was, therefore, not compensable under Delaware’s Workers’ Compensation Act (the Act).3 The Board looked to the parties’ prior course of conduct to determine the terms of the employment contract and found that Gates’s injury was compensable under the Act because, based on the parties’ prior course of conduct, he “was working within the course and scope of his employment contract when the motor vehicle accident occurred.” The Superior Court affirmed the Board’s decision. The Delaware Supreme Court affirmed the Superior Court, and therefore the Board. Specifically, the Court determined the Board applied the correct legal standard and acted within its discretion in finding, based on Gates’s unrebutted testimony as to the parties’ course of conduct prior to the collision, that the terms of Gates’s employment contract established he was to be paid for a callback from the time he received the call and that, at the time of the collision, he was working within the course and scope of this contract. These factual findings were supported by substantial evidence; the Board did not err in determining that Gates’s injury was compensable under the Act. View "Delaware v. Gates" on Justia Law
Henry v. Cincinnati Insurance Co.
Two cases consolidated for review by the Delaware Supreme Court involved automobile accidents. John Henry and Charles Fritz sustained injuries in accidents while operating employer-owned vehicles during the course of their employment. In both cases, the accidents were allegedly caused by a third-party tortfeasor. Both employees received workers’ compensation from their respective employers’ insurance carriers. In each case, the vehicle was covered by an automobile liability insurance policy issued to the employer by Cincinnati Insurance Company. The superior court issued an order in Henry’s case first, finding the exclusive-remedy provision in the Delaware Workers’ Compensation Act in effect at the time of his accident precluded Henry from receiving underinsured motorist benefits under the Cincinnati policy. Following that decision, the Fritz court granted Cincinnati’s motion for summary judgment on the same ground. Henry and Fritz argued on appeal to the Delaware Supreme Court that the superior court erred in finding the Act’s exclusivity provision precluded them from receiving underinsured motorist benefits through the automobile liability policies their respective employers purchased from Cincinnati. The Supreme Court agreed both trial courts erred in finding the Act’s exclusivity provision prevented underinsured motorist benefits. The Court reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "Henry v. Cincinnati Insurance Co." on Justia Law
Greenfield v. DFS Director Miles, et al.
Tiffany Greenfield appealed after the lawsuit she filed on behalf of minor Ethan Ford, was dismissed. Greenfield alleged that the defendants, who worked for the Delaware Division of Family Services (“DFS”), contributed in some way (as case workers, others as managers and supervisors) to four faulty investigations of reports that Ford and his half-sister, Autumn Milligan, were being abused and neglected by their mother, Tanasia Milligan. According to Greenfield’s complaint, the defendants’ dereliction of duty resulted in the tragic death of Autumn and permanent and irreversible damage to Ford that she averred necessitated long-term physical care and psychological services. The Delaware Supreme Court determined that Ford’s guardian sought redress from individuals who were charged with protecting him but who were unable to do so. "Those same individuals, however, are also required to preserve and foster the family unit, which creates an obvious tension between their duties that requires the exercise of judgment. Under such circumstances, our law requires that complaints against such individuals be written to a higher standard. We agree with the Superior Court that Greenfield’s complaint did not satisfy that standard and therefore affirm." View "Greenfield v. DFS Director Miles, et al." on Justia Law