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Ambrosio v. Drummond

Superior Court of Delaware

April 21, 2017

NOEMI VAZQUEZ AMBROSIO, Plaintiff,
v.
WILLIAM DRUMMOND, DELAWARE DEPARTMENT OF SAFETY AND HOMELAND SECURITY, DELAWARE STATE POLICE TROOP 6, and WOODFIELD INVESTORS, L.P., jointly and severally, Defendants.

          Date Submitted: April 19, 2017

         On Defendant's, Woodfield Investors, L.P., Request for Dismissal GRANTED

          Leroy A. Tice, Esquire, Wilmington, Delaware, Attorney for Plaintiff.

          Michael I. Silverman, Esquire, Silverman, McDonald & Friedman, Wilmington, Delaware, Attorney for Defendant Woodfield Investors, L.P.

          Lynn A. Kelly, Esquire, Delaware Department of Justice, Wilmington, Delaware, Attorney for Defendants William A. Drummond, Delaware Department of Safety and Homeland Security, and Delaware State Police Troop 6.

          ORDER

          CALVIN L. SCOTT, JR. JUDGE

         Background

         The action pending before the Court is a personal injury action stemming from a pedestrian collision with a Delaware State Police patrol car. Plaintiff sued the police officer, Defendant William Drummond, individually, the Delaware Department of Safety and Homeland Security, and Delaware State Police Troop 6, jointly and severely. Plaintiff asked the Court for leave to amend her Complaint on April 29, 2016, and on May 31, 2016 the Court granted Plaintiff's motion to amend. Plaintiff then filed a Second Amended Complaint on June 6, 2016, which added Defendant Woodfield Investors, L.P. (hereinafter "Defendant Woodfield") as a Defendant, the owner of Limestone Terrace Apartments, Plaintiff's residence at the relevant time. Plaintiff's claim against Woodfield is based on premises liability. Plaintiff claims that Defendant Woodfield owed Plaintiff a duty because it knew or had reason to know that artificial lighting in its parking lot was insufficient to protect both drivers and pedestrians, and as a result of this knowledge Defendant had a duty to take reasonable measures to provide additional artificial lighting for the benefit of drivers and pedestrians using the provided parking lot. Plaintiff claims that Defendant breached its duty of care by failing to take reasonable steps to inspect its parking lot for adequate driver and pedestrian lighting to prevent both from being exposed to a dangerous condition. Additionally, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Woodfield breached its duty of care it owed to Plaintiff by failing to take reasonable steps to add additional artificial lighting in its parking lot adequate to prevent both drivers and pedestrians from being exposed to a dangerous condition. At the pre-trial conference on March 27, 2017, issues arose regarding whether Defendant Woodfield had a duty to keep the parking lot lit to protect pedestrians and drivers, and if so, whether expert testimony is required. The Court asked the parties to file supplemental memos on these issues. Plaintiff filed a memo on April 4, 2017, and Defendants filed their memo April 10, 2017. The Court held oral argument on these issues on April 19. 2017.

         Findings of Fact

         Plaintiff, Noemi Vazquez Ambrosio, is an individual who lived as a tenant at Limestone Terrace Apartments, located at 4641 Patrician Boulevard, Wilmington, Delaware 19808. On November 1, 2014, Defendant Drummond was on "saturation duty" as a Delaware State Trooper. Around 11:00 p.m., on November 1 he followed a driver he suspected was driving under the influence. Defendant Drummond followed the vehicle north on Limestone Road (DE Route 7). Defendant Drummond observed the driver make a u-turn and head south on Limestone Road. Defendant Drummond followed the vehicle, made a u-turn onto southbound Limestone Road, and subsequently a right turn onto Patrician Boulevard to initiate a motor vehicle stop. Patrician Boulevard is a road that runs through Limestone Terrace Apartment Complex that intersects southbound Limestone Road and Haverford Place. Parking spaces boarder both sides of Patrician Boulevard and the apartment complex buildings are located behind the parking spots to the right of the roadway as you enter Patrician Boulevard from southbound Limestone Road. Lights do not boarder Patrician Boulevard. Rather, the lights in question are attached to the individual buildings of the apartment complex. After a few seconds of driving on Patrician Boulevard, Defendant Drummond activated his emergency lights. Almost simultaneously Plaintiff appeared on the dashcam, crossing Patrician Boulevard, and Defendant Drummond's vehicle subsequently struck the Plaintiff. The light located on the apartment building adjacent to the point of impact on Patrician Boulevard was not lit.

         The Parties' Contentions Regarding the Request for Dismissal

         The Court asked the parties to file supplemental briefing on two issues. First, whether Defendant Woodfield had a duty to provide adequate lighting in the parking lot of Limestone Terrace Apartments. Second, if this duty exists, whether expert testimony is required regarding the adequacy of the lighting. Plaintiff contends that Woodfield owed her a duty to provide a safe parking lot, as a tenant at Limestone Terrace Apartments. Plaintiff argues that this duty stems from the Delaware Landlord Tenant Code, stating that the "landlord shall at all times . . . provide a rental unit which shall not endanger the health, welfare or safety of the tenants, " and "[m]ake all repairs and arrangements necessary to put and keep the rental unit and the appurtenances thereto in as good condition as they were."[1]Plaintiff cites to Ford v. Ja-Sin, stating that landlords must "maintain the premises in a reasonably safe condition and to undertake any repairs necessary to achieve that end."[2] Further, Plaintiff claims that because Defendant Woodfield admitted that it replaced certain lamp bulbs prior to this incident, custody and control of the parking lot are established, and it "illustrates the legal principle that when one undertakes a task an obligation attaches to perform the task in a reasonable manner."[3] Additionally, Plaintiff asserts that expert testimony is not required concerning the adequacy of the lighting in the parking lot because "expert testimony is not admissible in a case in which the facts themselves can be adequately presented to the jury, and in which such facts are of a nature that ordinary men can understand them and draw the correct inferences from them."[4]

         Contrary to Plaintiff's position, Defendant Woodfield argues that Plaintiff has the burden of proving the existence of a duty, and Plaintiff has not met her burden. Defendant contends that Plaintiff was a business invitee on the property, and Defendant Woodfield owed her a duty to "remedy defects that they knew about or should have known about from a reasonable inspection."[5] Woodfield argues that there was no defect on the property, and in the alternative, if a lighting defect did exist, this defect could not be considered the proximate cause of the accident because Plaintiff observed Defendant Drummond's patrol vehicle. Defendant disagrees with Plaintiff's analysis that a duty arises under Delaware's Landlord Tenant Code. First, Defendant states Delaware case law does not support the proposition that a landlord, under the code, must supply a certain amount of artificial light. Second, Defendant argues that the provision Plaintiff cites applies to ...


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