Defendants' Motion for Partial Summary Judgment: DENIED
Miranda D. Clifton, Esquire.
C. Gill, Esquire.
6, 2014, Jose Baldoza was operating a vehicle owned by
Virginia Augustin when he struck a vehicle operated by Frank
Tumminello. Mr. Tumminello and his wife, an occupant in the
car Mr. Tumminello was driving at the time of the accident,
subsequently filed suit against Mr. Baldoza and Ms. Augustin
Baldoza has filed a Motion for Partial Summary Judgment,
arguing the Court should dismiss the Tumminelloes'
punitive damages claims.
judgment is only appropriate where, viewing the facts in the
light most favorable to the non-moving party, the moving
party has demonstrated that there is no genuine issue of
material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as
a matter of law. The moving party bears the burden of
establishing the non-existence of material issues of
fact. If material issues of fact exist, or if
the Court determines that it does not have sufficient facts
to enable it to apply the law to the facts before it, summary
judgment is inappropriate.
the question of whether an award of punitive damages is
appropriate is a question for the jury. However, if the
evidence does not support a reasonable inference that the
defendant's conduct meets the standard justifying
punitive damages, a directed verdict or judgment as to
punitive damages must be awarded.
Unlike compensatory damages, punitive damages are not awarded
to make a plaintiff whole, but rather, are awarded to deter
or punish the tortfeasor's conduct. Whether punitive
damages are available to a plaintiff turns on whether the
plaintiff can establish a prima facie case that the
tortfeasor's driving exhibited a wilful and wanton
disregard for the safety of others. For a tortfeasor's
conduct to be found wilful or wanton, the conduct must
reflect a "conscious indifference" or "I
don't care" attitude. A plaintiff must show that the
tortfeasor, in the formation of his judgment, consciously
ignored the precise harm that resulted, and that the precise
harm was reasonably apparent.
particular relevance to the case before the Court, "A
plea to a criminal statute which requires clear reckless
conduct may be sufficient to allow punitive damages to be
submitted to the jury."
scene of the accident, the responding officer noted Mr.
Baldoza "appeared intoxicated." Mr. Baldoza was
charged with various driving offenses, including Driving
Under the Influence. On September 22, 2014, Mr. Baldoza pled
guilty to Reckless Driving and the remaining charges were
4175 of Title 21 of the Delaware Code, to which Mr. Baldoza
pled guilty, provides: "No person shall drive any
vehicle in wilful or wanton disregard for the safety of
persons or property, and this offense shall be known as
reckless driving." Accordingly, Mr. Baldoza has admitted
to operating his vehicle with a wilful or wanton disregard
for the safety of others and the minimum threshold for
establishing a claim for punitive damages has been
Although the Court has held the issue of punitive damages may
be submitted to the jury,
[Mr. Baldoza] may explain to the jury his choice to enter a
plea, the advice given to him by counsel, and he may even
attempt to discount his presumptive mental state based on the
circumstances surrounding the plea. The jury may then draw
any inferences from the plea that was that was entered and