Justia Injury Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Delaware Supreme Court
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A Delaware superior court affirmed an Industrial Accident Board (the “IAB” or “Board”) decision denying Appellant Joseph Wilson’s (“Wilson”) petition seeking payment for a cervical spine surgery. The parties agreed the treatment Wilson received was reasonable and necessary. Wilson was injured in a work-related accident on August 1, 2002 while working for Appellee Gingerich Concrete and Masonry (“Employer”). Sometime after the accident, Wilson started treatment with Dr. Bikash Bose (“Dr. Bose”), a certified Delaware workers’ compensation healthcare provider. Wilson’s injury necessitated two related cervical surgeries. The first surgery was performed while Dr. Bose was certified under the Delaware workers’ compensation system (the “Delaware Certification”) according to the requirements set forth in the Act. Employer’s carrier paid the bills related to Wilson’s first surgery. But Wilson’s first surgery proved unsuccessful, and Dr. Bose recommended a second surgery. During the time between Wilson’s first surgery and his second surgery, Dr. Bose’s Delaware Certification lapsed, and he did not seek re-certification for nineteen months. The issue presented was whether the second surgery was compensable given that the treating physician’s certification under the Delaware Workers’ Compensation Act (the “Act”) had lapsed by the time of treatment. If the treatment was not compensable, as the IAB and superior court held, then Wilson asked the Delaware Supreme Court to anticipatorily resolve the question of whether he could be liable for the bill even though no one asserted such a claim. The Supreme Court concluded Dr. Bose’s lapse rendered him uncertified, and, thus, the disputed bills were not compensable under 19 Del. C. § 2322D. View "Wilson v. Gingerich Concrete & Masonry" on Justia Law

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The issue this case presented for the Delaware Supreme Court's review centered on whether the First Amendment barred claims for defamation and tortious interference with contract against a defendant who, in an email to a law firm, described as “shockingly racist” a lawsuit filed by one of the firm’s partners in his personal capacity. The suit aimed to preserve a nearby high school’s “Indian” mascot. The partner, who claimed to have lost his position with the law firm because of the email, sued his detractor, contending that the characterization of his lawsuit was demonstrably false and pled four causes of action, including defamation and tortious interference with contract. The partner’s detractor, in response, contended her statements about the partner were opinions protected by the First Amendment’s Free Speech Clause. The Superior Court agreed with the detractor and dismissed the partner’s tort action. The Supreme Court agreed with the trial court: the statements at issue did not on their face contain demonstrably false statements of fact, nor did they imply defamatory and provably false facts. "As statements concerning an issue of public concern, moreover, they are entitled to heightened First Amendment protection and cannot form the predicate of the plaintiff’s tort claims." View "Cousins v. Goodier" on Justia Law

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Zelda Sheppard appealed a superior court’s affirmance of an Industrial Accident Board (“IAB” or “Board”) decision granting Allen Family Foods’ (“Employer”) Petition for Review (“Petition”). The IAB determined that Sheppard’s prescribed narcotic pain medications were no longer compensable. Sheppard sought to dismiss the Petition at the conclusion of Employer’s case-in-chief during the IAB hearing, arguing that the matter should have been considered under the utilization review process. After hearing the case on the merits, the IAB disagreed, holding that Employer no longer needed to compensate Sheppard for her medical expenses after a two-month weaning period from the narcotic pain medications. On appeal, Sheppard argued the IAB erred as a matter of law when it denied Sheppard’s Motion to Dismiss Employer’s Petition because Employer failed to articulate a good faith change in condition or circumstance relating to the causal relationship of Sheppard’s treatment to the work injury. Accordingly, Sheppard argued that the Employer was required to proceed with the utilization review process before seeking termination of her benefits. The Delaware Supreme Court determined the IAB’s decision was supported by substantial evidence, therefore the superior court’s decision was affirmed. View "Sheppard v. Allen Family Foods" on Justia Law

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This appeal involved a challenge to how Geico General Insurance Company (“GEICO”) processed insurance claims under 21 Del. C. 2118. Section 2118 provided that certain motor vehicle owners had to obtain personal injury protection (“PIP”) insurance. Plaintiffs, all of whose claims for medical expense reimbursement under a PIP policy were denied in whole or in part, were either GEICO PIP policyholders who were injured in automobile accidents or their treatment providers. Plaintiffs alleged GEICO used two automated processing rules that arbitrarily denied or reduced payments without consideration of the reasonableness or necessity of submitted claims and without any human involvement. Plaintiffs argued GEICO’s use of the automated rules to deny or reduce payments: (1) breached the applicable insurance contract; (2) amounted to bad faith breach of contract; and (3) violated Section 2118. Having reviewed the parties’ briefs and the record on appeal, and after oral argument, the Delaware Supreme Court affirmed the Superior Court’s ruling that the judiciary had the authority to issue a declaratory judgment that GEICO’s use of the automated rules violated Section 2118. The Supreme Court also affirmed the Superior Court’s judgment as to the breach of contract and bad faith breach of contract claims. The Court concluded, however, that the issuance of the declaratory judgment was improper. View "GEICO General Insurance Company v. Green" on Justia Law

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Shelley Droz alleged that her husband, Eric Droz, used an arc grinding machine to resurface brake drum shoes that contained asbestos. She claimed the arc grinder manufacturer, Hennessy, knew that the grinding process generated asbestos dust, and Hennessy had a duty under Washington State law to warn about the dangers of asbestos dust exposure. Eric Droz died of mesothelioma while the litigation was pending. The Superior Court granted Hennessy’s summary judgment motion, holding that once Hennessy showed that the arc grinder could be used with asbestos-containing and asbestos-free brake drum shoes, the burden shifted to Ms. Droz to show that Mr. Droz used asbestos-containing brake drum shoes with the arc grinder. The court agreed with Hennessy that Droz did not offer sufficient evidence of exposure to brake drum shoe asbestos dust to counter Hennessy’s summary judgment motion. The issues for the Delaware Supreme Court were whether the Superior Court misapplied Superior Court Rule 56’s burden-shifting framework and, once the burden shifted to the plaintiff to raise a genuine issue of material fact, whether Ms. Droz came forward with evidence demonstrating that Mr. Droz used asbestos-containing brake drum shoes with the arc grinder. The Supreme Court found the Superior Court properly allocated the summary judgment burdens. But the Court reversed, finding Ms. Droz met her burden to raise a genuine issue of material fact whether Mr. Droz was exposed to asbestos dust from using the arc grinder with asbestos-containing brake drum shoes. View "Droz v. Hennessy Industries, LLC" on Justia Law

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Claimant Christina Zayas, a paratransit bus driver, sued her employer, DART/State of Delaware (“Employer”), for injuries she sustained in a 2016 work incident where a passenger physically assaulted her (the “Incident”). In 2019, Zayas underwent left shoulder arthroscopic surgery performed by Dr. Evan Crain (“Dr. Crain”). After the surgery, Zayas was placed on total disability from May 2019 through October 2019. Zayas filed Petitions to Determine Additional Compensation Due relating to the Incident. Specifically, she sought payment of medical expenses, total disability benefits, and acknowledgement of the compensability of the surgery Dr. Crain performed in 2019. Zayas’ hearing was scheduled for November 2019. Prior to the Hearing, the parties stipulated that the limited issue in dispute was whether the May 2019 surgery was causally related to the Incident. The Board held that Zayas failed to meet her burden of proof that the surgery in 2019 was causally related to the Incident. Notably, although the Board had excluded them, the Board stated in its Decision that Medical Records by Zayas' physician were admissible. A review of the record indicated the Medical Records were never admitted into evidence; and the Superior Court did not consider this inconsistency, or the issues Zayas had raised regarding the medical testimony and records. Nevertheless, the Superior Court affirmed the Board’s decision and found that substantial evidence existed to support the Board’s legal conclusions. On appeal, Zayas again argued the Board erred by not admitting her Medical Records and that it abused its discretion by admitting the Employer's expert's deposition testimony during the Hearing. The Delaware Supreme Court concluded that because Dr. Tadduni, the Employer's expert, refused to answer relevant questions, Zayas was deprived of the opportunity to elicit relevant information. "In essence, Dr. Tadduni unilaterally determined that he would not answer questions concerning Dr. Cary’s treatment of Zayas. In admitting Dr. Tadduni’s testimony, and simultaneously excluding the Medical Records, the Board’s actions prevented Zayas from adequately presenting her case, violated fundamental notions of fairness, and thereby abused its discretion." As a result, the Supreme Court reversed and remanded the Superior Court's judgment, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Zayas v. Delaware" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-appellant Dr. Carter Page, a public figure with ties to President Trump’s 2016 campaign, claimed that defendant-appellee Oath Inc.’s online news organizations published eleven defamatory articles about him in 2016 and 2017. Michael Isikoff authored a Yahoo! News article that formed the backbone of the amended complaint (the “Isikoff Article”). Three other articles were written by employees at TheHuffingtonPost.com (“HuffPost”) and refer to the Isikoff Article (the “Employee Articles”). The remaining seven articles were written by HuffPost non-employee “contributors” (the “Contributor Articles”). The articles discussed an “intelligence report” from a “well-placed Western intelligence source” with information that Page met with senior Russian officials and discussed potential benefits to Russia if Donald Trump won the presidential election. The Superior Court granted Oath’s motion to dismiss, finding that the Isikoff Articles and Employee Articles were either true or substantially true; Page was at least a limited purpose public figure, meaning he was required to plead actual malice by the individuals responsible for publication, and he failed to meet that standard; the fair report privilege for government proceedings applied; and Oath was protected for the Contributor Articles under the federal Communications Decency Act. Page appealed the judgment except the superior court’s ruling that the Employee Articles were true. After review, the Delaware Supreme Court affirmed, finding that "[a]t a minimum, the article is substantially true, and as such, Page did not state a claim for defamation based on that article." Page also failed to state a claim for defamation with respect to the remaining articles. Page also failed to allege that the individuals responsible for publication of those articles acted with actual malice. Finally, Page did not contest the superior court’s holding that the Employee Articles were true. Because these grounds dispose of Page’s defamation claims, the Supreme Court did not address any of the trial court's other grounds for dismissal. View "Page v. Oath Inc." on Justia Law

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Appellees, Rite Aid Corporation, Rite Aid Hdqtrs. Corp., and Rite Aid of Maryland, Inc. (collectively, “Rite Aid”), held a general liability insurance policy underwritten by defendany Chubb, Limited ("Chubb"). Rite Aid and others were defendants in multi-district litigation before the United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio (the “MDL Opioid Lawsuits”). Plaintiffs in that suit filed over a thousand suits in the MDL Opioid Lawsuits against companies in the pharmaceutical supply chain for their roles in the national opioid crisis. Certain suits were bellwether suits - including the complaints of Summit and Cuyahoga Counties in Ohio (“the Counties”) which were at issue here. The question this case presented for the Delaware Supreme Court was whether insurance policies covering lawsuits “for” or “because of” personal injury required insurers to defend their insureds when the plaintiffs in the underlying suits expressly disavowed claims for personal injury and sought only their own economic damages. The Superior Court decided that Rite Aid’s insurance carriers were required to defend it against lawsuits filed by two Ohio counties to recover opioid-epidemic-related economic damages. As the court held, the lawsuits sought damages “for” or “because of” personal injury because there was arguably a causal connection between the counties’ economic damages and the injuries to their citizens from the opioid epidemic. The Supreme Court reversed, finding the plaintiffs, governmental entities, sought to recover only their own economic damages, specifically disclaiming recovery for personal injury or any specific treatment damages. Thus, the carriers did not have a duty to defend Rite Aid under the governing insurance policy. View "ACE American Insurance Company v. Rite Aid Corporation" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs-Appellants worked on banana plantations in Costa Rica, Ecuador, and Panama. They sued the plantations in Delaware in 2012, claiming that while working on the plantations they suffered personal injuries from a pesticide known as 1, 2, Dibromo 3, Chloropropane (“DBCP”). Defendants-Appellees were numerous companies alleged to have caused the Plaintiffs’ exposure to DBCP and their resulting injuries. In 2013 the Superior Court dismissed the Plaintiffs’ complaint under what was sometimes referred to as Delaware’s McWane doctrine (the “Dismissal Order”). On December 31, 2018 Plaintiffs moved to vacate the Dismissal Order under Superior Court Civil Rule 60(b)(6). The Superior Court denied the Plaintiffs’ motion, finding that the motion was untimely and Plaintiffs failed to show extraordinary circumstances for vacating the judgment. Plaintiffs have appealed that order to the Delaware Supreme Court. Finding no reversible error, however, the Supreme Court affirmed the district court. View "Chaverri et al. v. Dole Food Company, et al." on Justia Law

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Appellants ACW Corporation (a.k.a. Arby’s, (Arby’s)) and Eastern Alliance Ins. Co., as Subrogee of Shanara Devon Waters (“Waters”), appealed the grant of summary judgment in favor of Appellees, Christopher Maxwell (“Maxwell”) and Donegal Mutual Ins. Co. (a.k.a. Donegal Ins. Group). Eastern Alliance was Arby’s’ workers’ compensation carrier. It paid Waters, an Arby’s employee, a $12,500 commuted, lump-sum workers’ compensation benefit to settle her workers’ compensation claims for injuries she received in a work-related motor vehicle accident caused by Maxwell. Arby’s and Eastern Alliance then brought this suit against Maxwell and his auto insurer, Donegal, under 19 Del. C. 2363, claiming that they were entitled to recover the $12,500 lump-sum payment from them. Maxwell and Donegal denied liability, though they acknowledged that under the Workers’ Compensation Act Arby’s and Eastern Alliance could assert a claim against Maxwell for damages that Waters would be entitled to recover against Maxwell in an action in tort. They argued, however, that Maxwell was not liable for the lump-sum payment because it was a settlement of potential or future workers’ compensation claims and did not include any damages that Waters would have been entitled to recover against Maxwell in an action in tort. Arby’s and Eastern Alliance argued that 19 Del. C. 2363(e) allowed them to recover from Maxwell “any amounts paid or payable [to Waters] under the Workers’ Compensation Act” in connection with the Maxwell accident, and that the lump-sum benefit was an amount paid to Waters under the Act. The Superior Court agreed with Maxwell, and after finding that Arby’s and Eastern Alliance failed to offer evidence that any of the $12,500 lump-sum benefit was for damages which Waters would be able to recover in a tort action against Maxwell, granted summary judgment in Maxwell’s and Donegal’s favor. Finding no reversible error in that judgment, the Delaware Supreme Court affirmed. View "ACW Corporation v. Maxwell" on Justia Law