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Trexler v. Billingsley

Supreme Court of Delaware

June 21, 2017

CHRISTINE TREXLER and BARRY TREXLER, wife and husband, Plaintiffs Below, Appellants,
v.
MARGARET BILLINGSLEY and DAVID BILLINGSLEY, Defendants Below, Appellees.

          Submitted: June 7, 2017

         Court Below-Superior Court of the State of Delaware C.A. No. N15C-08-131

          Before VALIHURA, VAUGHN, and SEITZ, Justices.

          ORDER

          COLLINS J. SEITZ, JR. JUSTICE

         This 21st day of June, 2017, having considered the briefs and the record below, it appears to the Court that:

         (1) Margaret Billingsley ran into the back of Christine Trexler's car. Trexler retained counsel, and over the course of several months, Trexler's counsel continually demanded that Billingsley's insurer pay out the policy limits to settle the case. After Billingsley and her insurer finally agreed to settle Trexler's claims by paying policy limits, Trexler apparently got cold feet, and insisted that her attorney claim that her offers to settle for policy limits were only solicitations of offers. Thus, according to Trexler, she reserved the right to refuse any offer made by Billingsley.

         (2) The Superior Court held that the attorneys for the parties had reached a binding agreement to settle Trexler's personal injury claim for policy limits. On appeal, Trexler reiterates the same argument made in the Superior Court-the final offer Trexler's attorney made to settle the case was not an offer that could be accepted. Instead, it was a solicitation of an offer which allowed Trexler to have the final say on acceptance. We agree with the Superior Court that the parties reached a binding agreement to settle the dispute without further approval by Trexler. Thus, we affirm the Superior Court's decision.

         (3) On September 6, 2013, Billingsley, a student at Charter School of Wilmington, was driving home from school. Trexler, who was picking up her daughter from the school, was driving in front of her. Billingsley, distracted by the students walking around her car, hit Trexler's car which was stopped in front of her. According to Trexler, she suffered severe injuries as a result of the impact and required cervical fusion surgery. Billingsley had an automobile liability insurance policy with State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company with policy limits of $100, 000.

         (4) Trexler filed a personal injury claim in the Superior Court. On February 17, 2016, Trexler's counsel made a demand by email under 6 Del. C. § 2301(d)[1] stating:

I attach a medical bill itemization and alien notice. The Itemization exceeds the available liability coverage. This is our demand for the policy limits. It is a thirty demand under 6 del.C. 2301(d). Please advise if you need anything else. Thanks.[2]

         Billingsley's counsel forwarded the demand to State Farm for its review. On April 18, 2016, Trexler's counsel sent Billingsley's counsel a follow-up email:

Per your request, I am attaching the bill from Pennsylvania Hospital. This is part of the lien which was already sent to you some time ago. These bills are monumentally hard to get.
I had already provided a time limit demand for the policy limits. The case seems clear. Liability is clear. The bills exceed the policy limits and there are no known contributory events to the issue of causation. Please advise if the limits will be offered and I can then consult with my client to see if she will accept the same. Thanks.[3]

         (5) On May 11, 2016, Trexler's counsel sent Billingsley's counsel another email asking "What's happening?"[4] Billingsley's counsel responded the next day saying that she had left a message for the insurance adjuster, and that she would call him after she spoke with the adjuster. On May 18, 2016, Trexler's counsel sent Billingsley's counsel another email stating: "The deadline to offer to tender the policy Is this Friday (5/20). After that, I will recommend that my client move the matter to trial and seek an excess verdict."[5] On May 20, 2016, Billingsley's counsel wrote back: "[T]he carrier for the defendant Billingsley has confirmed settlement of the case for the defendant's $100, 000 liability limits. The settlement check and release are being prepared."[6] Trexler's counsel and Billingsley's counsel spoke on the phone later that day, though the substance of that conversation is unclear.[7]

         (6) On May 31, 2016, Trexler's counsel wrote back, "I'm waiting on client's authority to accept the offer. I should know within a day or two."[8]Billingsley's counsel replied the same day, "Since we made the payment within the time you noted in your last demand, the case should be settled. I have requested the draft from the client. I will wait to hear from you."[9] Sometime thereafter, Trexler's counsel informed the court that the case had settled. On June 3, 2016, the court sent a letter to the parties stating:

This letter is a confirmation that the Court has been notified by the Plaintiff or Plaintiff's Counsel in the above referenced case that the parties have settled this matter as to all claims and all parties. In order for the Court to close its file, a "Stipulation of Dismissal" must be filed. If a stipulation of dismissal, or a letter stating the status of this matter, is not filed with the Court within thirty ...

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