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Cooke v. Murphy

Supreme Court of Delaware

July 30, 2014

CHRISTOPHER J. COOKE, JR. and CONSTANTINE KOUTOUFARIS, Plaintiffs Below-Appellants,
v.
GENE GRAY MURPHY, Defendant Below-Appellee / Cross-Appellant / Cross-Appellee,
v.
STATE FARM MUTUAL AUTOMOBILE INSURANCE COMPANY, Defendant Below-Cross Appellee / Cross Appellant

Submitted May 22, 2014

Case Closed August 7, 2014.

Editorial Note:

This decision has been designated as "Table of Decisions Without Published Opinions." in the Atlantic Reporter.

Court Below: Superior Court of the State of Delaware in and for Kent County. C.A. No. K11C-07-023.

Before STRINE, Chief Justice, BERGER, and RIDGELY, Justices.

OPINION

ORDER

Henry duPont Ridgely Justice

(1) Plaintiffs-Below/Appellants/Cross-Appellees Christopher Cooke and Constantine Koutoufaris (referred to collectively as " Appellants" ) appeal from a denial of a Motion for New Trial and a partial grant of a Motion for Costs following a jury trial in the Superior Court in this personal injury action arising from a motor vehicle accident. The jury found in favor of Appellants but awarded zero dollars in damages against Defendant-Below/Appellee/Cross-Appellant Gene Gray Murphy (" Murphy" ). Appellants raise two claims on appeal. They first contend that the trial court erred when it denied Appellants' motion for a new trial because it was improper as a matter of law for the jury to conclude that Murphy proximately caused the accident and Koutoufaris' injuries but award zero dollars in damages. Appellants also claim that the trial court erred in awarding costs to Murphy because Murphy was not the prevailing party.

(2) Murphy and Defendant-Below/Cross-Appellee/Cross-Appellant State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company (" State Farm" ), who was dismissed from the case at trial, each raise one cross-appeal. Murphy argues that the trial court committed reversible error in granting State Farm's renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law. In its cross-appeal, State Farm contends that the trial court erred when it denied State's Farm's initial motion for a directed verdict at the close of Appellant's case. Both Murphy and State Farm concede that we need only address their respective cross-appeals in the event that we order a new trial. We find no merit to Appellants' appeal and affirm. As a result, we need not reach Murphy's and State Farm's cross-appeals.

(3) In 2010, Appellants were traveling in a minivan owned by Koutoufaris on Route 13 in Dover. Cooke was driving, and Koutoufaris rode in the passenger seat. While stopped at a red light, Appellants were struck from behind by a red pickup. Cooke signaled to the driver of the red truck to pull over to an adjacent lot, but the other driver drove away and left the scene. A third driver who saw the accident pulled into the lot with Cooke and provided Appellants with the license plate of the red truck. The third driver told Appellants that the red truck had a vanity plate spelling " MURPHY."

(4) Officers later arrived at the scene. One of the officers obtained the red truck's vehicle registration information. The officer also retrieved a driver's license photo of Murphy, whom Appellants identified as the driver. Thereafter, Appellants drove themselves to Milford Memorial Hospital to obtain treatment. Cooke complained of pain in his neck and groin. Koutoufaris complained of neck, chest, and leg pains.

(5) In 2011, Appellants filed a suit in the Superior Court against Murphy, alleging that he was negligent and proximately caused Appellants' injuries. Murphy denied that he was the hit-and-run driver. As a result, Appellants also named State Farm as a second defendant in the event that the trial showed that another driver had struck them. A two-day jury trial was held in August 2013. During the trial, Appellants introduced Dr. Richard DuShuttle as a medical expert to testify as to the nature and extent of Appellants' injuries. At both the close of Appellants' case and of Murphy's case, State Farm filed motions for judgment as a matter of law because neither party had introduced evidence of another driver. The trial court denied State Farm's motion at the close of Appellants' case but granted its renewed motion following the close of Murphy's case.

(6) After deliberations, the jury found that Murphy was negligent in causing the accident. The Appellants did not fare as well with the jury over the issue of whether they had suffered compensable harm as a result of Murphy's negligence. As to Cooke, the jury found no proximate cause between any injuries he claimed and Murphy's negligence. By contrast, as to Koutoufaris, the jury found that Murphy's negligence had proximately caused injury to him. But the jury awarded Koutoufaris zero dollars in damages. In response to the jury's verdict, Appellants filed a motion for a new ...


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