Submitted: March 3, 2015
Upon Defendant State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company’s Motion for Summary Judgment on Plaintiff’s Claims for Punitive Damages. Granted.
William D. Fletcher, Jr., Esquire of Schmittinger & Rodriguez, P.A., Dover, Delaware; attorney for Plaintiff.
Brian T. McNelis, Esquire of Young & McNelis, Dover, Delaware; attorney for Defendants Edmund A. Goldsborough and Edward J. Goldsborough, Sr.
Colin M. Shalk, Esquire and Catherine M. Cramer, Esquire of Casarino Christman Shalk Ransom & Doss, P.A., Wilmington, Delaware; attorneys for Defendant State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company.
William L. Witham, Jr. Resident Judge
The issue before the Court is whether a Plaintiff may recover punitive damages for an uninsured motorist claim against an insurance company when Plaintiff was involved in an auto accident with a third-party tortfeasor, and the policy explicitly states punitive damages are unavailable. For the reasons set forth below, the answer is no.
FACTS AND PROCEDURE
Betty Baker (hereinafter "Plaintiff") was involved in an auto accident with Edmund A. Goldsborough and Edward J. Goldsborough, Sr. (collectively "the Defendants") on September 26, 2013. Plaintiff filed her complaint on June 9, 2014, and filed an Amended Complaint on September 22, 2014, October 16, 2014, and on June 11, 2015. Plaintiff alleges that the Defendants were negligent per se in causing injuries to Plaintiff. Edward J. Goldsborough, Sr. was the owner of the vehicle involved in the accident, which was driven by Edmund A. Goldsborough.
On January 20, 2015, Defendant State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company (hereinafter "State Farm") filed a motion for summary judgment, requesting this Court deny Plaintiff's ability to recover punitive damages from her UM/UIM policy for the third-party uninsured tortfeasor's alleged recklessness. Plaintiff's policy has a limit of $100, 000 per person and $300, 000 per occurrence. Plaintiff's policy states that there is no coverage for punitive or exemplary damages. Defendant argues that there is no policy in Delaware for paying punitive damages against an uninsured motorist, and that UM/UIM providers are able to exclude coverage for punitive damage awards. Defendant relies on this Court's decision in Hamilton v. Liberty Mut. Fire Ins. Co., 2010 WL 8250753 (Del. Super. June 24, 2010) where the Court held that insurance providers may contractually exclude coverage for punitive damages.
On February 2, 2015, Plaintiff responded in opposition to State Farm's motion. Plaintiff writes that "it is not disputed that State Farm's uninsured/underinsured motorist policy has a written exclusion in the policy for 'exemplary and punitive damages.'" The Plaintiff, however, argues that the Delaware Supreme Court has yet to rule on the enforceability of such an exclusion. Plaintiff argues that the meaning of "damages" in the Delaware Code likely applies to both compensatory and punitive damages, in that the statute allows for recovery of "damages" from owners of uninsured vehicles.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Summary judgment will be granted when, viewing all of the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, the moving party demonstrates that "there are no material issues of fact in dispute and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." This Court shall consider the "pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any" in determining whether to grant summary judgment. When material facts are in dispute, or "it seems desirable to inquire more thoroughly into the facts, to clarify the application of the law to the circumstances, " summary judgment ...