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Kelty v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co.

Superior Court of Delaware, New Castle

May 28, 2014

MATTHEW KELTY, Plaintiff,
v.
STATE FARM MUTUAL AUTOMOBILE INSURANCE COMPANY, Defendant.

Submitted: January 6, 2014

Gary S. Nitsche, Esquire. Weik, Nitsche & Dougherty, Attorney for Plaintiff.

Danielle Yearick, Esquire. Tybout, Redfearn & Pell, Attorney for Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION ON REMAND

WILLIAM C. CARPENTER, JR. JUDGE.

This is the Court's decision on remand following the Delaware Supreme Court's reversal of summary judgment entered in Defendant's favor. On appeal, the Delaware Supreme Court found unequivocally that the Plaintiff's injuries were covered by personal injury protection ("PIP") benefits under the policy; thus, on remand, this Court ordered briefing from the parties on the only remaining issue-the amount of PIP benefits available. After reviewing the supplemental briefing and the insurance policy, the Court finds that Plaintiff is entitled to draw from the full policy limit of $100, 000.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Plaintiff is seeking insurance coverage under Delaware's PIP statute for injuries he sustained on August 3, 2008. Plaintiff was helping John and Shirley Lovegrove cut branches from the top of a tree at their residence. Plaintiff climbed into the tree, positioned himself among the branches, and used a chainsaw to cut branches off the tree. To ensure that the branches did not strike a nearby power line once cut, Plaintiff and the Lovegroves decided to tie one end of a rope to the targeted branch and the other end to the trailer hitch on John's truck, wherein John was seated. John would then accelerate in order to keep the rope taut, while Plaintiff cut the branch. This would ensure that, when a branch fell, the rope would pull it away from the power line.

Unfortunately, this plan went awry. Plaintiff claims that while he was cutting a branch, John rapidly accelerated, causing the rope to snap. Freed of the truck's pull, the branch recoiled, broke off the tree, struck the power line, and knocked Plaintiff out of the tree in the process. Plaintiff suffered multiple injuries, of which he sought compensation through the Lovegrove's insurer, Defendant. The parties were able to settle Plaintiff's claims for bodily-injury liability, however, Defendant denied Plaintiff's PIP claim.

Thereafter, Plaintiff filed the underlying Complaint for PIP coverage and Defendant moved for summary judgment under Superior Court Civil Rule 56, arguing that Plaintiff was not entitled to PIP benefits under 21 Del. C. § 2118. This Court applied the three-part test previously adopted by the Delaware Supreme Court to determine whether Plaintiff was entitled to benefits.[1] This Court concluded that there was no genuine issue of material fact that the truck was not used for transportation purposes when Plaintiff was injured-as the test required-and granted Defendant's summary-judgment motion. The Delaware Supreme Court, on appeal de novo, determined that the transportation element of the prior three-part test was inconsistent and could not be reconciled with 21 Del. C. § 2118 (a)(2).[2] Thus, the Supreme Court rejected the third element of the test and set forth a new standard only requiring a party to establish the first two elements of the prior test for PIP coverage. In applying the modified test, the Supreme Court found, as this Court previously found on summary judgment, that the first two elements were met. Thus, the Supreme Court concluded that Plaintiff was entitled to PIP benefits. The case was thereby reversed and remanded to this Court to determine the amount of benefits available to Plaintiff under the policy.

After remand, the Court held an office conference on November 12, 2013, to ascertain the status of the case. At the office conference, the parties informed the Court that the only remaining issue was whether Plaintiff was entitled to the maximum policy limit of $100, 000 or whether Plaintiff's damages were subject to a provision limiting PIP benefits to $15, 000. The Court ordered supplemental briefing by both parties to determine whether the case can be decided on purely legal grounds or if it was necessary to schedule discovery and prepare for trial.

Defendant, thereafter, tendered a check for $15, 000 to Plaintiff on November 14, 2013. Plaintiff, however, refused the tender and is arguing that Plaintiff was entitled to draw from the full policy amount of $100, 000.[3] After review of the supplemental briefing, the Court finds that there are no factual issues for a jury to determine and, rather, it is appropriate for the Court to rule on the purely legal issues raised by the parties. This is the Court's decision on remand determining the PIP benefits available to Plaintiff under the policy.

DISCUSSION

As described above, this Court is only faced with one issue-the amount of PIP benefits available under the policy. Plaintiff contends that he is entitled to the policy's maximum coverage of $100, 000, while Defendant argues that the accident and ...


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