Articles Posted in Delaware Supreme Court

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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

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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

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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

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This case arose out of a 2013, hit-and-run investigation that escalated into an officer-involved shooting. Michael Rogers appealed a superior court order granting summary judgment in favor of Defendants Corporal Matthew Morgan, the State of Delaware, and the Department of Public Safety Division of State Police. Corporal Morgan responded to a hit-and-run call and ran the license plate of the offending vehicle, which belonged to Michael. Corporal Morgan traveled to Michael’s home, where Michael’s elderly mother, Lorraine Rogers, answered the door. Ms. Rogers, who lived with her son, invited Corporal Morgan into the home as she went to wake Rogers, who was heavily inebriated and asleep in his bedroom. When Rogers refused to step outside to investigate damage to his vehicle, Corporal Morgan gripped Rogers' arm to lead him outside. Rogers immediately began fighting Corporal Morgan, who ended the fight by shooting Rogers. The State then charged Rogers with resisting arrest and several counts of assault. At the first criminal trial, Rogers filed a motion to suppress evidence resulting from Corporal Morgan’s entrance into the home, which Michael claimed was a warrantless search without valid consent. The court denied Roger's motion to suppress, finding his mother invited the Corporal into the home, and neither Rogers nor his mother revoked consent. The jury was unable to reach a verdict, resulting in a mistrial. The State re-indicted Rogers for assault and resisting arrest; Rogers pled nolo contendere to resisting arrest charge, and the State dropped the assault charges. Rogers' plea resulted in his conviction for one count of resisting arrest with force or violence, for which he was sentenced to jail time followed by probation. Michael filed this civil action in Superior Court alleging federal and state invasion of privacy claims, among other counts. Corporal Morgan moved for summary judgment on the grounds that collateral estoppel barred Michael’s invasion of privacy claims, since the judge in the criminal trial had found that Corporal Morgan had permission to be in the home when the altercation ensued. The superior court agreed with the Corporal and granted summary judgment. Finding no reversible error in the superior court's judgment, the Delaware Supreme Court affirmed. View "Rogers v. Morgan, et al." on Justia Law

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A jury returned a verdict in favor of plaintiff Monica Broughton, in a medical negligence suit she brought in the amount of $3 million. The case was brought by Ms. Broughton individually and as parent and natural guardian of her nine-year-old son, Amari Broughton-Fleming. The injury involved was a permanent injury to Amari’s right brachial plexus that occurred during birth. Defendants are Dr. Peter J. Wong and his medical practice, Dedicated To Women, OB-GYN, P.A. argued on appeal the superior court erred: (1) when it denied their motion in limine to exclude the opinion of plaintiff’s standard of care expert, which allowed an impermissible res ipsa loquitur opinion that resulting in the jury improperly presuming negligence from the fact that an injury occurred; (2) when it denied their motion in limine to exclude plaintiff’s causation expert, which they contended lacked a proper factual foundation, and constituted an impermissible res ipsa loquitur opinion; (3) when it permitted plaintiff to elicit statistical evidence from Dr. Wong and his experts to establish the rarity of brachial plexus injuries; and (4) when it refused to instruct the jury on “Actions Taken in Emergency.” The Delaware Supreme Court concluded the first and third contentions were directly addressed by the superior court in a ruling on post-trial motions; the second and fourth contentions, which were initially raised and denied before trial, were not reargued in the post-trial motions. Therefore, the Supreme Court affirmed as to defendants' four arguments on appeal. View "Wong v. Broughton" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Amanda Norman appealed after a superior court granted summary judgment in favor of defendants All About Women, P.A. and Christine W. Maynard, M.D. in a medical negligence case. The grant of summary judgment followed an earlier ruling that the testimony of plaintiff's medical expert was inadmissible under the rules of evidence. In that ruling, the court excluded the expert’s testimony because the plaintiff failed to show that his opinions were “‘based on information reasonably relied upon by experts’ in his field.” Taking plaintiff's expert's deposition testimony as a whole, the Delaware Supreme Court found it sufficient to establish the applicable standards of care, Dr. Maynard's deviations from those standards, and injury to plaintiff caused by those deviations. As such, the Court ruled the expert's testimony admissible, reversed the superior court ruling, and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Norman v. All About Women, P.A., et al." on Justia Law

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This was a “take-home” asbestos case in which an employee’s now-deceased wife sued the companies who supplied asbestos products to her husband’s employer. Her husband’s employer caused him to work with those products, and the asbestos in them came home on his clothes. The wife’s theory of recovery against the asbestos product manufacturers was under section 388 of the Restatement (Second) of Torts, an asbestos product manufacturer has a duty to warn foreseeable users of the dangers of its products, to the extent the asbestos product manufacturer has actual or constructive knowledge of that danger, and when it is unlikely that the user will discover the dangerous condition.2 The legal question underlying this appeal reduced to whether the spouse of an employee harmed by take-home asbestos exposure could sue an asbestos product manufacturer and recover if it failed to provide warnings and safe laundering instructions to her spouse’s employer, so he could protect himself or whoever laundered his clothes. "When applying section 388, the mundane realities of life make the spouses of employees who launder asbestos-covered clothes foreseeable plaintiffs to whom the manufacturers can be held liable. Taking into account, though, the argument that the asbestos product manufacturers are not in a position to warn employees directly, much less the other people who might launder employees’ clothes," the Delaware Supreme Court reversed the grant of summary judgment in favor of the defendant-manufacturers. "If, as the Manufacturers suggest, claims from plaintiffs with more momentary exposure to and tenuous relationship to an exposed employee are filed in the future, the answer is to address those cases then in a reasoned way that takes into account the practicalities that must inform our common law. But, the answer is not to ignore the equity due to the plaintiff before us, and the plaintiffs like her, who base their claims on a clearly foreseeable consequence of common, and necessary, human conduct: workers often have family members who launder their work clothes, and if those work clothes are covered in asbestos dust, those family members can suffer serious injury and even death." View "Ramsey v. Georgia Southern University Advanced Development Ctr" on Justia Law

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Jane D.W. Doe, the deceased plaintiff whose estate was the appellant, was validly arrested by a Delaware State Police Officer for shoplifting, and “was subject to an outstanding capias.” Doe alleged that, rather than properly processing her arrest, the Officer instead told her that if she performed oral sex on him, he would take her home and she could just turn herself in on the capias the next day. If she refused, he would “take her to court, where bail would be set, and . . . she would have to spend the weekend in jail.” The Officer originally denied that the oral sex occurred, but after DNA evidence of the oral sex was found on Doe’s jacket. The State charged the Officer with multiple crimes, including: (1) “intentionally compel[ling] or induc[ing] [Doe] to engage in sexual penetration/intercourse;” and (2) “solicit[ing] a personal benefit from [Doe] for having violated his duty” to bring her in on her capias. What was disputed in this appeal was whether the jury verdict finding that the State was not responsible in tort as the officer’s employer for this misconduct should have been affirmed. The Delaware Supreme Court agreed with Doe that the jury verdict should have been vacated, finding that the jury was improperly asked to decide whether the employer of a police officer who received oral sex from an arrestee for his own personal gratification, and with no purpose to serve his employer, was acting within the scope of his employment. This question was submitted to the jury because the Supreme Court found in its initial decision (“Doe I”) that the jury should have decided the issue. In a second decision (“Doe II”), the Supreme Court adhered to the law of the case and did not revisit that earlier ruling. In this decision, the Court admitted it erred in leaving this issue of law to the jury, and for leaving the superior court in "the impossible position of crafting sensible jury instructions to implement a mandate that was not well-thought-out." The Court held, as a matter of law, if a police officer makes a valid arrest and then uses that leverage to obtain sex from his arrestee, his misconduct need not fall within the scope of his employment under section 228 of the Restatement (Second) of Agency to trigger his employer’s liability. In so finding, the Supreme Court took into account the unique, coercive authority entrusted in police under Delaware law, and the reality that when an arrestee is under an officer’s authority, she cannot resist that authority without committing a crime. The Court vacated the jury verdict in this case and remanded for entry of a judgment in Doe's favor on the issue of liability, with a jury trial to follow on the issue of damages. View "Sherman v. Dept of Public Safety" on Justia Law

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This appeal involved a single-vehicle accident that occurred on Omar Road in Sussex County, Delaware. Ashlee Reed was the driver; Jacqueline Pavik was her passenger. Reed was injured in the accident. Pavik died from injuries she received. At the time, Omar Road was undergoing reconstruction. The accident occurred on a Sunday night when no construction was taking place and the road was open to the public. Reed and Pavik’s parents alleged that the accident was caused by an unsafe road condition known as raveling, which caused Reed to lose control of her vehicle and crash into trees off the roadway. George & Lynch, Inc. (George & Lynch) was the general contractor in charge of construction. Reed and Pavik’s parents brought suit against a number of entities, but this appeal involved only George & Lynch. Among other things, the parents claimed George & Lynch was negligent for failing to place adequate temporary traffic control signs or devices warning the public of road conditions. The Superior Court granted summary judgment in favor of George & Lynch, holding that it had no duty to post temporary traffic control signs or devices warning about the condition of the road on the weekend the accident occurred, regardless of whether it anticipated that raveling would occur because of a predicted storm over the upcoming weekend. The Superior Court also held that certain repair work that the Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT) performed on Omar Road on the day of the accident broke any causal link between George & Lynch’s alleged negligence and the accident. The question before the Delaware Supreme Court was whether the Superior Court’s summary judgment analysis was legally correct. The Supreme Court concluded it was not and that the judgment of the Superior Court had to be reversed. View "Pavik v. George & Lynch, Inc." on Justia Law

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According to the allegations of the complaint, the plaintiffs were adult and minor Argentinean citizens. The defendants, Philip Morris USA Inc. (“PM USA”) and Philip Morris Global Brands, Inc. (“PM Global”), owned Massalin Particulares, S.A., a tobacco production company. In 1984, Massalin created a brokerage company, Tabacos Nortes, to purchase tobacco from small, family-owned farms in Misiones, Argentina. The plaintiffs owned and live on these farms, raising livestock and growing produce for their own consumption adjacent to the tobacco plants. Tabacos Nortes required the farmers to purchase and use herbicides and pesticides, which it sold to the farmers on credit. Monsanto Company developed, marketed, and supplied the herbicide “Roundup,” which, according to the complaint, contained chemical ingredients and toxins capable of causing “genetic, teratogenic, and/or developmental injury to humans.” The plaintiffs mixed chemicals like Roundup and sprayed the tobacco crops by hand with chemicals from containers on their backs. As alleged in the complaint, the defendants knew that the plaintiffs’ personal crops, livestock, and water would be contaminated with the herbicides and pesticides. The plaintiffs further alleged the defendants never recommended protective measures, but knew the plaintiffs lacked protective equipment and the knowledge required for safe use of the chemicals. In consolidated appeals the issue before the Delaware Supreme Court was whether a trial court must first determine that an available alternative forum existed before dismissing a case for forum non conveniens. The Supreme Court held that an available alternative forum should be considered as part of the forum non conveniens analysis, but was not a threshold requirement. Because the Superior Court considered the availability of an alternative forum as a factor in its forum non conveniens analysis, its judgment was affirmed. View "Aranda, et al. v. Philip Morris USA Inc., et al." on Justia Law