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Helm v. 206 Massachusetts Ave., LLC

Supreme Court of Delaware

December 19, 2014

GAIL HELM and SCOTT HELM, Plaintiffs Below, Appellants,
v.
206 MASSACHUSETTS AVENUE, LLC, and GALLO REALTY, INC., Defendants Below, Appellees

Submitted October 29, 2014

Case Closed January 6, 2015.

Page 1075

Court Below: Superior Court of the State of Delaware, in and for Kent County, C.A. No. K12C-03-014 RBY.

Patrick C. Gallagher, Esquire, Curley & Benton, LLC, Dover, Delaware, Attorney for Gail Helm and Scott Helm, Plaintiffs Below, Appellants.

Susan L. Hauske, Esquire and Robert D. Cecil, Jr., Esquire (argued), Tybout, Redfeam & Pell, Wilmington, Delaware, Attorneys for 206 Massachusetts Avenue LLC, Defendant Below, Appellee.

James D. Griffin, Esquire, Griffin & Hackett, P.A., Georgetown, Delaware, Attorney for Gallo Realty, Inc., Defendant Below, Appellee.

Before STRINE, Chief Justice; HOLLAND and VALIHURA, Justices.

OPINION

Page 1076

HOLLAND, Justice:

This appeal relates to a personal injury action that was filed in the Superior Court by the Plaintiffs Below/Appellants, Gail Helm and Scott Helm. The Appellants rented a beach house located at 206 Massachusetts Avenue, Lewes, Delaware (the " Property" ), for a week in July 2010. On July 10, 2010, as Gail was descending the stairs from the second floor to the first floor of the Property, she fell and sustained injuries. In their Complaint, Gail sought to recover damages based on claims of negligence and breach of contract against both Gallo Realty, Inc., the agent who rented the Property to the Helms, and 206 Massachusetts Avenue, LLC, the owner of the Property. Scott Helm asserted an additional claim for loss of consortium. The Superior Court granted both of the Defendants' Motions for Summary Judgment.

Superior Court Decisions

The Appellee Gallo Realty, Inc. (" Gallo" ) filed a Motion for Summary Judgment based on two grounds. First, Gallo asserted that it was not exercising control over the Property, but was merely acting as the agent for the Property owner. Second, Gallo argued that the indemnification provision of the rental contract shielded it from liability. The Appellee 206 Massachusetts Avenue, LLC (the " LLC" ), the Property owner, also filed a Motion for Summary Judgment. It argued that Gail primarily assumed the risk of her fall based on her deposition testimony and was more than fifty percent negligent as a matter of law. It also argued that the indemnification clause of the rental contract shielded the LLC from liability.

Based on the parties' submissions and oral arguments, the Superior Court granted both Defendants' Motions for Summary Judgment in separate decisions dated December 12, 2013.[1] The Superior Court held that Gail was more than fifty percent negligent in causing her injuries as a matter of law and alternatively, that she primarily assumed the risk of her fall.[2] The Appellants filed a Motion for Reargument asserting that the Superior Court granted summary judgment in favor of Gallo despite the fact that it never raised the issue of primary assumption of risk or comparative negligence; that there remained material facts in dispute; that the Superior Court misapplied precedent in determining that Gail was more negligent than the LLC and/or Gallo as a matter of law; and that the Superior Court erroneously dismissed Count II of Appellants' Complaint regarding the alleged breach of contract.

The Superior Court denied the Motion for Reargument.[3] The Superior Court ruled that, despite the fact that Gallo never raised the issues of primary assumption of the risk or comparative negligence, under Superior Court Rule 56, the court was permitted to look at pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admission on file to determine whether Gallo was entitled to judgment as a matter of law.[4] The Superior Court also noted that at oral argument on the Motion for Summary Judgment, Gallo's counsel argued that Gail

Page 1077

caused her own injuries without objection from Appellants. In denying the Motion for Reargument, the Superior Court summarily dismissed the Appellants' breach of contract claim because it held that it was nothing more than an alternative count to recover for Gail's personal injuries.[5]

Issues On Appeal

The Appellants raise three issues in this appeal. First, they contend that the Superior Court erred in granting the Defendants' Summary Judgment Motions on the issue of primary assumption of risk and comparative negligence as a matter of law. Second, the Appellants submit that the Superior Court erred in holding that the indemnification clause provision in the lease protected either Defendant from liability. Third, the Appellants ...


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