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Finney v. Atlantic States Insurance Company

Superior Court of Delaware, Kent

December 6, 2017

AMINAH S. FINNEY, Plaintiff,
v.
ATLANTIC STATES INSURANCE COMPANY, a foreign corporation, Defendant.

          Submitted: October 13, 2017

         Upon Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment Denied.

          Scott E. Chambers, Esquire of Schmittinger & Rodriguez, P.A., Dover, Delaware; attorney for Plaintiff.

          Gary W. Alderson, Esquire of Elzufon Austin & Mondell, P.A., Wilmington, Delaware; attorney for Defendant.

          ORDER

          WILLIAM L. WITHAM, JR. RESIDENT JUDGE.

         Before the Court is Defendant Atlantic States Insurance Company's ("ASIC") motion for summary judgment and Plaintiff Aminah S. Finney's response in opposition. After careful review of the pleadings and consideration of the arguments of counsel, the Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment is hereby DENIED.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         The facts in this case are somewhat unusual, yet undisputed. On September 27, 2016, 16-year-old Mason Faust lost control of his vehicle while traveling on Delaware Route 71. Mr. Faust crossed over the northbound lane, striking the guardrail and a utility pole before eventually going over the guardrail, and flipping an "unknown number of times" down the embankment. The Faust vehicle came to rest after striking a tree. The collision between the Faust vehicle and the utility pole caused the pole to split in half, with half of the pole hanging from a guy wire.

         The Plaintiff, along with other drivers, stopped her vehicle in order to render assistance to Mr. Faust. The Plaintiff was standing near the broken utility pole when ASIC insured driver, Gary Lee Pierce, approached the scene of the accident in his vehicle. Mr. Pierce, while attempting to avoid the pedestrians standing on the side of the road, struck the guy wire with his vehicle, causing the top of the utility pole to detach from the bottom half. The detached utility pole then struck the Plaintiff in the back and head area.

         The Plaintiff applied for Personal Injury Protection (PIP) coverage from ASIC but ASIC denied her claim. The Plaintiff therefore filed the instant action, seeking declaratory judgment pursuant to 10 Del. C. Ch. 65.

         THE PARTIES' CONTENTIONS

         First, ASIC contends that the Plaintiff was not injured as a "natural and reasonable incident or consequence" of Mr. Pierce's use of the insured vehicle. ASIC draws this foreseeability requirement from the Minnesota Supreme Court's decision in Associated Indep. Dealers, Inc. v. Mut. Serv. Ins. Companies.[1]

         The Plaintiff contends that ASIC's reliance on the Minnesota Supreme Court's dicta is inapplicable in this case because, unlike the Minnesota no-fault statute, Delaware's PIP statute does not contain the words "arising out of ownership, maintenance or use of the vehicle." Moreover, the Plaintiff argues that including an element of foreseeability as part of the Klug test[2] is improper because the Minnesota Supreme Court has noted that "each case presenting such a question must, to a great degree, turn on the particular facts presented."[3]

         Second, ASIC contends that Mr. Faust's conduct constituted an act of independent significance which broke the causal link between Mr. Pierce's use of his vehicle and the Plaintiffs injuries.

         The Plaintiff contends that Mr. Faust's collision was not an act of independent significance that broke the causal chain between Mr. Pierce's striking of the guy wire and the Plaintiffs injuries. According to the Plaintiff, it is axiomatic that an independent act breaking the causal link between Mr. Pierce's striking of the guy wire and the Plaintiffs injuries must have happened between the time where Mr. Pierce struck the guy wire and the time that the pole hit the Plaintiff. The Plaintiff also contends that an act that merely sets the stage for a subsequent injury does not constitute an independent act. Morever, because these are highly factual determinations, the Plaintiff alleges that summary judgment is inappropriate.

         Third, ASIC contends that the Delaware Supreme Court in State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co. v. Buckley, indicated an intention to look askance at "strained" interpretations of our PIP statute.[4]

         The Plaintiff did not respond to ASIC's third contention.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Summary judgment is granted only if the moving party establishes that there are no genuine issues of material fact in dispute and judgment may be granted as a matter of law.[5] All facts are viewed in a light most favorable to the non-moving party.[6] Summary judgement may not be granted if the record indicates that a material fact is in dispute, or if there is a need to clarify the application of law to the specific circumstances.[7] When the facts permit a reasonable person to draw only one inference, the question becomes one for decision as a matter of law.[8] If the non-moving party bears the burden of proof at trial, yet "fails to ...


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