Articles Posted in Delaware Supreme Court

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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

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The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit certified a question of Delaware law to the Delaware Supreme Court. The plaintiff-appellants worked on banana plantations in Costa Rica, Ecuador, and Panama at various times in the 1970s and 1980s. The defendants-appellees included United States corporations that manufactured and distributed a pesticide called dibromochloropropane (“DBCP”), and other United States corporations that owned and operated the banana plantations. The plaintiffs alleged they suffered adverse health consequences from exposure to DBCP while working on the banana plantations. In 1993, a putative class action lawsuit was filed in state court in Texas; all plaintiffs to this suit were members of the putative class. Before a decision was made on class certification, defendants impleaded a company partially owned by the State of Israel ​and used its joinder as a basis to remove the case to federal court under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA). After removal, the case was consolidated with other DBCP-related class actions in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas. The cases were consolidated. The Texas District Court granted defendants' motion to dismiss for forum non conveniens. The certified question to the Delaware Court centered on whether a class action's tolling ended when a federal district court dismisses a matter for forum non conveniens and, consequently, denies as moot “all pending motions,” which included the motion for class certification, even where the dismissal incorporated a return jurisdiction clause stating that “the court will resume jurisdiction over the action as if the case had never been dismissed for f.n.c.” If it did not end at that time, when did it end based on the facts specific to this case? The Delaware Court responded the federal district court dismissal in 1995 on grounds of forum non conveniens and consequent denial as moot of “all pending motions,” including the motion for class certification, did not end class action tolling. Class action tolling ended when class action certification was denied in Texas state court on June 3, 2010. View "Marquinez, et al. v. Dow Chemical Company, et al." on Justia Law

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The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit certified a question of Delaware law to the Delaware Supreme Court. The plaintiff-appellants worked on banana plantations in Costa Rica, Ecuador, and Panama at various times in the 1970s and 1980s. The defendants-appellees included United States corporations that manufactured and distributed a pesticide called dibromochloropropane (“DBCP”), and other United States corporations that owned and operated the banana plantations. The plaintiffs alleged they suffered adverse health consequences from exposure to DBCP while working on the banana plantations. In 1993, a putative class action lawsuit was filed in state court in Texas; all plaintiffs to this suit were members of the putative class. Before a decision was made on class certification, defendants impleaded a company partially owned by the State of Israel ​and used its joinder as a basis to remove the case to federal court under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA). After removal, the case was consolidated with other DBCP-related class actions in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas. The cases were consolidated. The Texas District Court granted defendants' motion to dismiss for forum non conveniens. The certified question to the Delaware Court centered on whether a class action's tolling ended when a federal district court dismisses a matter for forum non conveniens and, consequently, denies as moot “all pending motions,” which included the motion for class certification, even where the dismissal incorporated a return jurisdiction clause stating that “the court will resume jurisdiction over the action as if the case had never been dismissed for f.n.c.” If it did not end at that time, when did it end based on the facts specific to this case? The Delaware Court responded the federal district court dismissal in 1995 on grounds of forum non conveniens and consequent denial as moot of “all pending motions,” including the motion for class certification, did not end class action tolling. Class action tolling ended when class action certification was denied in Texas state court on June 3, 2010. View "Marquinez, et al. v. Dow Chemical Company, et al." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-appellant Michael Laine slipped and fell on ice near a gas pump on the premises of a convenience store-gasoline station operated by the defendant-appellee, Speedway, LLC (“Speedway”). He was the driver of a Modern Maturity Center shuttle bus and slipped when he stepped off the shuttle to fill its tank with gasoline. The fall caused him to sustain serious physical injuries. The ice was caused by a light, freezing rain which was then falling. Laine filed suit against Speedway, alleging that negligence on Speedway’s part was the proximate cause of his injuries. The Superior Court granted summary judgment for Speedway, holding that under the “continuing storm” doctrine, Speedway was permitted to wait until the freezing rain had ended and a reasonable time thereafter before clearing ice from its gasoline station surface. This appeal raised two questions for the Delaware Supreme Court’s review: (1) should the Court continue to recognize the “continuing storm” doctrine; and (2) whether the doctrine applied to the facts of this case. After review, the Supreme Court concluded the continuing storm doctrine should continue to be recognized and that it did apply to the facts of this case. Therefore, the Court affirmed the Superior Court’s judgment. View "Laine v. Speedway, LLC" on Justia Law

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This dispute centered on subrogation claims Victoria Insurance Company and Nationwide Insurance Company asserted against the City of Wilmington. This appeal presented a question of first impression before the Supreme Court: whether, under Delaware's motor vehicle insurance statute governing subrogation disputes among insurers and self-insurers, the losing party may appeal de novo to the Superior Court from an adverse arbitration award. In considering consolidated motions to dismiss two such appeals filed by the City against the insurers, the Superior Court determined that 21 Del. C. 2118(g)(3), which mandated arbitration for subrogation disputes arising between insurers and self-insurers, did not provide a right to appeal. Because the statute unambiguously provided for appeals from mandatory arbitration of subrogation disputes between insurers and self-insurers, the Supreme Court reversed. View "City of Wilmington v. Nationwide Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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A jury found that plaintiffs-appellants Andrew and April Rash "sustained one or more injuries proximately caused by" negligence on the part of defendant-appellee Justin Moczulski following an auto accident. However, the jury returned a zero verdict. Plaintiffs moved for a new trial. The Superior Court denied the motion for a new trial but imposed an additur of $10,000. Plaintiffs appealed, arguing: (1) the trial court’s denial of their motion for a new trial was an abuse of discretion; and (2) the award of$10,000 for additur was unreasonable. Defendants, Moczulski and Diamond Materials, LLC, cross-appealed, contending that the motion for a new trial should have been denied without additur. After review, the Supreme Court found that there were significant disputed issues concerning the nature and extent of Mr. Rash’s injuries as well as alleged failure on his part to mitigate his injuries through treatment. In its order denying plaintiffs’ motion for a new trial, the trial court observed that “the exact nature and extent of Plaintiff’s injury [and] Plaintiff’s failure to mitigate his injuries through treatment made identifying and compensating the injury quite problematic,” an observation with which the Supreme Court agreed. Under the circumstances of this case, the Court found no abuse of discretion in the trial court’s decision to award an additur. View "Rash v. Moczulski" on Justia Law

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Magdalena Guardado, an undocumented worker, was employed as a machine manager for Roos Foods when she was involved in a work-related accident. She injured her left wrist and thereafter received total disability benefits. The employer petitioned the Industrial Accident Board (“the Board”) to terminate those benefits on the ground that the worker was no longer disabled and could return to work. The Board found: (1) the employer met its initial burden of showing that the worker was no longer totally disabled; (2) that the worker was a prima facie displaced worker based solely on her status as an undocumented worker; and (3) the employer had failed to meet its burden of showing regular employment opportunities within the worker’s capabilities. Accordingly, it denied the employer’s petition. The questions this case presented for the Delaware Supreme Court's review were: (1) whether an injured worker’s immigration status alone rendered her a prima facie displaced worker; and (2) whether the Board properly found that the employer failed to meet its burden of showing regular employment opportunities within the worker’s capabilities because its evidence failed to take into account the worker’s undocumented status. The Court concluded that an undocumented worker’s immigration status was not relevant to determining whether she was a prima facie displaced worker, but it was a relevant factor to be considered in determining whether she is an actually displaced worker. The Court also concluded that the Board correctly rejected the employer’s evidence of regular employment opportunities for the worker because that evidence failed to consider her undocumented status. View "Roos Foods v. Guardado" on Justia Law