Justia Injury Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Delaware Supreme Court
Enrique v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co.
Joann Enrique appealed the Superior Court’s grant of summary judgment for State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company in an action she brought for bad faith denial of uninsured motorist (“UM”) coverage stemming from a 2005 car accident. In 2005, an uninsured driver crashed into Enrique’s car by improperly turning into her lane. Enrique suffered a fractured rib, trauma to the right knee requiring arthroscopic surgery, trauma to the left knee for which she was a candidate for arthroscopic surgery, abrasions, and soft tissue injuries. Throughout the settlement negotiations and the processing of Enrique’s claim, State Farm personnel expressed concerns about whether Enrique’s knee injuries were caused by pre-existing conditions. The record was unclear as to why there were large lapses in time during the settlement negotiations. While the parties were waiting for the Independent Medical Examiner report, in July 2008, Enrique filed suit against State Farm, seeking benefits up to the $100,000 policy limits, as well as punitive damages against State Farm for bad faith by refusing to pay up to those limits. In support of the bad faith claim, Enrique alleged that State Farm refused to compensate her up to the UM policy limits without any reasonable justification. In October 2008, the Superior Court severed and stayed the bad faith claim pending resolution of the UM damages claim. The parties then stipulated to a partial dismissal of the bad faith claim without prejudice. Due to the continuing impasse, in September 2008 State Farm decided to advance Enrique $25,000, as the parties both agreed the claim was worth at least that much. As trial approached, State Farm offered Enrique another $20,000 to settle the case, for a total of $45,000. Enrique also revised her demand, and as of January 2010, was willing to settle for an additional $65,000, representing a $90,000 demand. The parties could not bridge the gap, and the damages case went to trial in February 2010. The jury returned a $260,000 verdict. State Farm did not seek remittitur, but did appeal on an evidentiary issue. The Delaware Supreme Court affirmed, and State Farm paid the remaining $75,000 of their policy limits, costs and interests. Enrique then pursued her bad faith claim against State Farm, claiming as damages the unpaid $160,000 portion of the jury verdict, prejudgment interest, and punitive damages. The Superior Court granted State Farm summary judgment because Enrique failed to make a prima facie showing of bad faith. The court based its decision on causation issues arising from Enrique’s pre-existing knee problems (which gave State Farm a reasonable basis for its actions), State Farm’s multiple valuations of Enrique’s claim that put it below policy limits, and her failure to offer facts showing State Farm exhibited reckless indifference in handling her claim. Finding no reversible error as to the Superior Court's grant of summary judgment, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Enrique v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co." on Justia Law
Citigroup Inc., et al. v. AHW Investment Partnership, MFS, Inc., et al.
The plaintiffs were all affiliates of Arthur and Angela Williams, who owned stock in Citigroup. The defendants were Citigroup and eight of its officers and directors. In 1998, Citicorp and Travelers Group, Inc. merged, forming Citigroup. At that point, Arthur Williams's shares in Travelers Group were converted into 17.6 million shares of Citigroup common stock, which were valued at the time of the merger at $35 per share. In 2007, the Williamses had these shares transferred into AHW Investment Partnership, MFS Inc., and seven grantor-retained annuity trusts, all of which the Williamses controlled. In 2007, the Williamses sold one million shares at $55 per share. But, the Williamses halted their plan to sell all of their Citigroup stock because, based on Citigroup's filings and financial statements, they concluded that there was little downside to retaining their remaining 16.6 million shares. The Williamses allegedly held those shares for the next twenty-two months, finally selling them in March 2009 for $3.09 per share. After selling their 16.6 million shares, the Williamses sued Citigroup in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, arguing that their decision not to sell all of their shares in May 2007, and their similar decisions to hold on at least three later dates, were due to Citigroup‘s failure to disclose accurate information about its true financial condition from 2007 to 2009. The Second Circuit certified a question of Delaware law to the Delaware Supreme Court arising from an appeal of a New York District Court decision. The Second Circuit asked whether the claims of a plaintiff against a corporate defendant alleging damages based on the plaintiff‘s continuing to hold the corporation's stock in reliance on the defendant's misstatements as the stock diminished in value properly brought as direct or derivative claims. The Delaware Court answered: the holder claims in this action were direct. "This is because under the laws governing those claims [(]those of either New York or Florida[)] the claims belong to the stockholder who allegedly relied on the corporation's misstatements to her detriment. Under those state laws, the holder claims are not derivative because they are personal to the stockholder and do not belong to the corporation itself." View "Citigroup Inc., et al. v. AHW Investment Partnership, MFS, Inc., et al." on Justia Law
State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co. v. Buckley
Plaintiff Stephanie Buckley sought PIP benefits following an accident involving a school bus. Defendant State Farm insured the school bus that Buckley intended to take to school on March 27, 2012. Buckley was hit by another vehicle when, after receiving the signal from the bus driver, she crossed the street to board the bus. In a detailed opinion, the Superior Court explained why Buckley was entitled to PIP coverage from State Farm. The Supreme Court affirmed, finding that the Superior Court had no difficulty finding that the school bus was involved in the accident for purposes of 21 Del. C. 2118, "because the bus driver, by law, controlled the process by which Buckley entered and exited the bus, and the accident occurred after the bus driver signaled her to proceed and she followed that instruction." View "State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co. v. Buckley" on Justia Law
Connelly v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co.
Christina Connelly appealed the dismissal of her claim against State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company. She contended that a claim accrued only when the insured suffers a judgment in excess of policy limits, and that judgment becomes final and non-appealable. Connelly's appeal raised this question as it pertained to the applicable statute of limitations on Connelly's insurance claim. State Farm contended that the claim accrued when the insurer allegedly acts in bad faith and breaches its duty to the insured. Although the Delaware Supreme Court had never addressed that precise issue, courts in other states that have considered it, and the weight of expert authority on insurance law, were in accord that a bad-faith failure-to-settle claim accrued when an excess judgment became final and non-appealable. "That approach conserves litigant and judicial resources. It also properly aligns the incentives of the insurer and its insured by allowing them to join efforts in defending the underlying third-party insurance claim without a stayed breach-of-contract claim causing a conflict of interest between them. Further, to state a claim that the insurer breached its implied duty to act in good faith, the insured must plead damages, which she cannot do before there is a final excess judgment against her." In view of these considerations, the Delaware Court found that a claim against an insurer for acting in bad faith by failing to settle a third-party insurance claim accrued when an excess judgment against an insured becomes final and non-appealable. Accordingly, it reversed the Superior Court's decision. View "Connelly v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co." on Justia Law
Sherman v. Delaware
This appeal arose from a sexual assault complaint against a Delaware State Police Officer. After the officer, Joshua Giddings, arrested plaintiff-appellant Jane Doe for shoplifting, he threatened to throw her in jail unless she had sex with him. Doe filed suit against Giddings and the State of Delaware. Doe alleged that the superior court erred by: (1) granting the State's motion for summary judgment on sovereign immunity grounds; (2) denying Doe's motion for partial summary judgment on respondeat superior grounds; and (3) granting a motion to dismiss by Giddings' estate. The Supreme Court concluded after review that the State waived sovereign immunity, and therefore, the superior court erred in granting the State's motion for summary judgment. Furthermore, the Supreme Court concluded Doe's two other arguments were without merit. The case was affirmed in part, reversed in part, and the case remanded for further proceedings. View "Sherman v. Delaware" on Justia Law
McCaffrey v. City of Wilmington, et al.
While off-duty, out of uniform, driving his own car, and under the influence of alcohol, Wilmington Police Officer Michael Spencer ran a red light and collided with a car driven by Morgan McCaffrey. After the accident, Officer Spencer asked McCaffrey to handle the matter without police involvement and to move their damaged cars out of the roadway and into parking spaces in front of McCaffrey’s nearby apartment. Officer Spencer and McCaffrey then went into the apartment, where Officer Spencer undressed and made sexual advances toward McCaffrey, which she refused. McCaffrey called the police after Officer Spencer passed out in her bed. The responding officers took Officer Spencer to the hospital, and later to the police station, where after a delay of five hours, Officer Spencer supposedly passed field tests for intoxication. The Wilmington Police Department (WPD) disciplined Officer Spencer for his conduct that evening. McCaffrey filed suit against Officer Spencer, the WPD, and others, including former Chief of Police Michael Szczerba, stemming from the car accident and Officer Spencer’s admitted inappropriate conduct with McCaffrey. In a series of opinions, the Superior Court dismissed all claims against the defendants other than Officer Spencer, and entered a final judgment excluding Officer Spencer. McCaffrey raised two issues on appeal: (1) the Superior Court erred by dismissing Count I of her complaint arguing that she sufficiently alleged that Spencer was acting within the scope of his employment as a Wilmington Police Officer when he ran into McCaffrey’s car and made inappropriate sexual advances after the accident; (2) that the Superior Court erred in dismissing Count IV, against Chief Szczerba and the City because the County and Municipal Tort Claims Act did not immunize them from suit for Officer Spencer’s actions. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed the Superior Court. View "McCaffrey v. City of Wilmington, et al." on Justia Law
Ketler v. PFPA, LLC
Plaintiffs-appellants DeShaun Ketler and Brittany Ketler appealed a Superior Court order granting Defendant-appellee PFPA, LLC’s (“PlanetFitness”) motion for judgment on the pleadings. DeShaun Ketler was injured while using exercise equipment in a Planet Fitness facility. The Ketlers claim that the injuries were caused by negligence on the part of Planet Fitness. The Superior Court found that the Ketlers claim was barred by a signed release of liability. It determined that a release which allowed a party to avoid liability for its own negligence was permissible under Delaware Law if the release is unambiguous, not unconscionable, and not against public policy. It further determined that the release satisfied all three criteria. On appeal, the Ketlers argued the Superior Court erred because the release is ambiguous, unconscionable, and against public policy. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Ketler v. PFPA, LLC" on Justia Law
Christiana Care Health Services v. Davis
Kenneth Davis was employed by Christiana Care Health Services as a dishwasher in its Nutrition Services department. In 2012, Davis was working when he slipped and fell backwards, landing on his back. A doctor saw Davis for a defense medical examination on in early 2013. The doctor wrote a report indicating “that any low back injury causally related to the work accident was “resolved” and any ongoing symptoms were non-work related.” Approximately one month later, Christiana Care’s counsel sent an “extremely modest” settlement offer to Davis’s attorney. Although it extended this settlement offer, Christiana Care’s position was that Davis’s back injury was due to a pre-existing gunshot injury that was unrelated to Davis’s employment. To the extent that any injury during his work contributed to Davis’s back troubles, Christiana Care maintained that this was resolved as of February 27, 2013 when Dr. Crain examined him. This appeal addressed the Superior Court’s decision to overrule a determination by the Industrial Accident Board (the “IAB”) that the parties had reached a settlement agreement, which barred a later claim for benefits due to permanent impairment. Because it lacked a complete release that would have avoided any question about its effect, the settlement agreement was “less than ideally clear.” But the IAB’s factual determination that the parties’ settlement, which involved an express agreement that the injury in question was resolved as an ongoing medical matter, precluded a future claim for permanent impairment based on the same “resolved” injury was supported by substantial evidence. The Superior Court was required to defer to the IAB’s factual determinations to the extent they were supported by substantial evidence, and in this case, the Superior Court erred by substituting its own factual findings for that of the IAB. Moreover, there was no question that the settlement agreement was, as a legal matter, a binding contract supported by adequate consideration. Therefore, the Supreme Court reversed the Superior Court’s decision and reinstated the IAB’s determination. View "Christiana Care Health Services v. Davis" on Justia Law
Stoms v. Federated Service Insurance Company
David Stoms was killed in an automobile accident by an uninsured driver. David was driving a car belonging to his employer, Diamond Motor Sports, Inc., which had purchased uninsured motorists coverage on its insurance policy only for a limited class of drivers. Under Diamond Motor's insurance policy, only directors, officers, partners, and owners of the corporation had uninsured motorists coverage. David Stoms was a finance manager at Price Toyota, one of Diamond Motor's dealerships. The insurance policy gave all drivers, including David, personal injury protection coverage up to $30,000 per accident. David had purchased no supplemental coverage of his own. Although Federated Insurance paid the entire $30,000 in personal injury protection on David's behalf, it denied Mrs. Stoms benefits for uninsured motorists coverage resulting from David's death. Mrs. Stoms sued Federated Insurance, demanding those benefits. The parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment and the Superior Court granted Federated Insurance's motion. Mrs. Stoms argued that the Superior Court erred in granting Federated Service Insurance Company's motion for summary judgment after concluding that the insurance policy it issued to Diamond Motor was neither contrary to public policy nor ambiguous. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Stoms v. Federated Service Insurance Company" on Justia Law
State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co. v. Kelty
In 2013, the Delaware Supreme Court determined that Matthew Kelty was eligible for personal injury protection (PIP) benefits under an insurance policy between State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company and John and Shirley Lovegrove after Kelty was injured in an accident involving the Lovegroves' vehicle. As a result, the Supreme Court reversed the Superior Court's earlier grant of summary judgment to State Farm and remanded the case for further proceedings. On remand, the parties argued about whether Kelty was entitled to receive only the statutory minimum of $15,000, or $100,000, including excess coverage the Lovegroves opted to pay for but which was expressly limited in the policy to the insureds and their relatives who lived with them. The Superior Court held that Kelty was entitled to receive the full $100,000 because the policy's limitation on who could benefit from the excess coverage was "void as against public policy." The Supreme Court reversed finding that the plain language of the statute, 21 Del. C. 2118, required PIP policies to provide only $15,000 of coverage. Imposing a higher minimum here simply because the Lovegroves chose to pay for additional coverage for themselves and their relatives "thwart[ed] Delaware's public policy to encourage drivers to purchase more than the statutorily-mandated minimum by increasing the cost of excess coverage.[. . .] It is not the role of the judiciary to alter that amount and thus disrupt the incentives that the General Assembly has itself set up for insurers and consumers. Accordingly, we reverse the judgment of the Superior Court." View "State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co. v. Kelty" on Justia Law