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Watson v. Tjaden

Superior Court of Delaware, Kent

April 10, 2015

BARBARA WATSON, individually and as Guardian Ad Litem of TANJANIA WATSON and TITUS WATSON, TYNESHIA WATSON, as Guardian Ad Litem of TYNAIHJA M. WATSON and TYMEIR M. DAWSON, TYSHARIA DIXON, as Guardian Ad Litem of JACARY WATSON, DANTE DIXON and KARIZMA DIXON, Plaintiffs,
v.
LAURA L. TJADEN, Defendant.

Submitted: April 7, 2015

Upon Consideration of Plaintiff/Counterclaim Defendant Barbara Watson's Motion to Dismiss DENIED

Patrick G. Rock, Esquire, Heckler & Frabizzio, Wilmington, Delaware for Plaintiff/Counterclaim Defendant Barbara Watson.

Nicholas E. Skiles, Esquire, Swartz Campbell, LLC, Wilmington, Delaware for Defendant. Young, J.

ORDER

Robert B. Young J.

SUMMARY

Barbara Watson ("Plaintiff, " or "Ms. Watson") and seven other passengers (together with Ms. Watson, "Plaintiffs") in a vehicle operated by Plaintiff, were hit from behind by Laura Tjaden ("Defendant"). Defendant is alleged to have been drunk during the time of the accident, and is averred to have plead guilty to a charge arising from operating a vehicle under the influence.

Plaintiffs filed suit against Defendant, asserting that her negligence caused in the rear-end collision. In response to Plaintiffs' suit, Defendant filed an Answer containing a Counterclaim against Plaintiff, Ms. Watson. Defendant argues that Plaintiff was negligent, creating a dangerous condition, as eight individuals should not have been riding in a vehicle intended to seat only five occupants. Plaintiff moves to dismiss Defendant's Counterclaim, arguing that Defendant has failed to state a claim for which relief can be granted. Plaintiff's argument has two bases: 1) the Counterclaim is statutorily barred, as Defendant cannot offer admissible evidence that Plaintiffs were not restrained properly; and 2) comparative negligence is not a defense available to punitive damages. Given Delaware's liberal acceptance of pleadings in the context of a motion to dismiss, particularly at this early stage of litigation, both of these arguments are premature. Therefore, Plaintiff's motion is DENIED.

FACTS AND PROCEDURES

On February 25, 2013, Plaintiffs were passengers in a 1998 Jeep Grand Cherokee operated by Plaintiff, Ms. Watson. In total, there were eight occupants of the car. Other than the driver Ms. Watson, all of the passengers were minors. Defendant, driving a 2006 Ford Mustang, allegedly while under the influence of alcohol, impacted the rear of Plaintiffs' vehicle. Defendant is further alleged to have plead guilty to a charge of Driving Under the Influence–Third Offense. Plaintiffs claim to have sustained both physical and mental injuries following this accident. On June 30, 2014, Plaintiffs filed their Complaint sounding in negligence against Defendant. By their Complaint, Plaintiffs seek both compensatory and punitive damages. By her Amended Answer filed on January 13, 2015, Defendant counterclaimed against Plaintiff, Ms. Watson, asserting a theory of negligence on the part of Ms. Watson. Plaintiff moves to dismiss this Counterclaim.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

The Court's standard of review on a motion to dismiss pursuant to Superior Court Civil Rule 12(b)(6) is well-settled. The Court accepts all well-pled allegations as true.[1] Well-pled means that the complaint puts a party on notice of the claim being brought.[2] If the complaint and facts alleged are sufficient to support a claim on which relief may be granted, the motion is not proper and should be denied.[3] The test for sufficiency is a broad one.[4] If any reasonable conception can be formulated to allow Plaintiff's recovery, the motion to dismiss must be denied.[5] Dismissal is warranted only when "under no reasonable interpretation of the facts alleged could the complaint state a claim for which relief might be granted."[6]

DISCUSSION

The case before the Court involves several allegedly injured Plaintiffs and one purportedly culpable Defendant. In her Answer, Defendant puts forth a Counterclaim solely against one of the Plaintiffs: Ms. Watson. Pursuant to Superior Court ...


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