Justia Injury Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Delaware Supreme Court
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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

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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

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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

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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

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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