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Jarrett v. Titan Indemnity Co.

Superior Court of Delaware, Kent

December 11, 2017

LAMAR JARRETT, Plaintiff,
v.
TITAN INDEMNITY COMPANY, a foreign corporation, Defendant.

          Submitted: October 11, 2017

         Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. Granted.

          Scott E. Chambers, Esquire and Gary E. Junge, Esquire of Scnmittinger & Rodriguez, P.A., Dover, Delaware; attorneys for the Plaintiff.

          Lisa M. Grubb, Esquire of the Law Office of Cynthia G. Beam, Wilmington, Delaware; attorney for the Defendant.

          ORDER

          WILLIAM L. WITHAM, JR. RESIDENT JUDGE

         Before the Court is Defendant Titan Indemnity Company's ("Titan") Motion for Summary Judgment and Plaintiff Lamar Jarrett's Response in Opposition. Titan's motion is hereby GRANTED.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         On February 3, 2016, Mr. Jarrett, intending to perform maintenance on another person's vehicle in a nearby apartment parking lot, transported his tools to the parking lot in his own vehicle. Mr Jarrett parked his vehicle directly beside the other vehicle that he intended to conduct maintenance on. After examining the other vehicle, Mr. Jarrett turned to his own vehicle to retrieve the tools that he had brought. Mr. Jarrett was standing next to his vehicle, with his keys in hand, preparing to unlock the door when his brother yelled that a tree was falling. Mr. Jarrett attempted to move away from the falling tree, but he and his vehicle were struck by the tree before he could escape.

         At the time of the loss described, Mr. Jarrett's vehicle was insured by Titan. Mr. Jarrett applied to Titan for no-fault PIP benefits as a result of his loss. However, Titan denied coverage for his loss pursuant to the terms of Mr. Jarrett's policy as his injuries did not arise, "out of the: (1) ownership; (2) maintenance; or (3) use; of a motor vehicle."

         Mr. Jarrett subsequently filed suit to recover his unpaid medical expenses, up to the contractual policy limits, damages set forth in 21 Del. C. § 2118B(c), together with pre and post-judgment interest and the costs of litigation.

         On July 27, 2017, Titan filed its Motion for Summary Judgment pursuant to Superior Court Civil Rule 56(c), on the basis that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.

         On August 17, 2017, Mr. Jarrett filed his Response in Opposition to Titan's Motion for Summary Judgment.

         On August 18, 2017, Titan filed a Reply to Mr. Jarrett's Response.

         On September 22, 2017, the Court held oral argument for this matter. At the end of the hearing, the Court determined that it was necessary for the parties to submit supplemental briefing.

         On October 4, 2017, Mr. Jarrett filed his supplemental briefing with the Court. Titan filed its supplemental brief on October 11, 2017.

         THE PARTIES CONTENTIONS

         In Titan's initial brief filed on July 27, 2017, Titan contends that it is entitled to summary judgment because Mr. Jarrett's injury "did not arise out of the: (1) ownership; (2) maintenance; or (3) use; of his motor vehicle as a motor vehicle." Specifically, Titan contends that Mr. Jarrett is not entitled to PIP benefits because, according to Titan, Mr. Jarrett cannot demonstrate that his bodily injury "arose out of the use of a motor vehicle." In addition, Titan contends that Mr. Jarrett's vehicle was not an "active accessory" in causing the injury. Next, Titan alleges that the falling tree was an act of independent significance that broke the causal link between the use of Mr. Jarrett's vehicle and the injuries inflicted at the time of the use. Finally, Titan contends that Mr. Jarrett is not entitled to PIP benefits because his vehicle was not being used for transportation purposes.

         In Mr. Jarrett's initial response on August 17, 2017, he contends that Titan is not entitled to summary judgment because: (1) he was an occupant of his vehicle at the time he was injured; (2) his vehicle was an active accessory in causing the injury; and (3) the tree falling does not constitute an act of independent significance. Mr. Jarrett alleges that the PIP statute does not require that a claimant show that he was "using" the insured vehicle or that it be "used for transportation purposes." Finally, Mr. Jarrett contends that Titan's "independent significance" defense is barred because Titan did not raise it as an affirmative defense in its answer. Therefore, Mr. Jarrett requests that the Court deny Titan's motion for summary judgment.

         In Titan's Reply, filed on August 18, 2017, Titan contends that Mr. Jarrett was not "engaged in a task related to the operation of his vehicle." Titan also alleges that Mr. Jarrett would not have been considered an occupant of his vehicle. Finally, Titan believes that Mr. Jarrett is not entitled to PIP benefits because, according to Titan, Mr. Jarrett's vehicle was merely the situs of his injuries and the tree falling constituted an act of independent significance. Titan claims that it included the argument, regarding independent significance, in Titan's denial of benefits letter to Mr. Jarrett. In sum, Titan requests this Court grant summary judgment.

         In Mr. Jarrett's letter to the Court, filed on October 4, 2017, he clarified that, despite the language in Mr. Jarrett's insurance policy, the only requirements that Mr. Jarrett must demonstrate to qualify for PIP coverage are those requirements contained in 21 Del. C. § 2118(a)(2)c. Mr. Jarrett also clarifies his position regarding his occupancy at the time of his injury, as well as his belief that his vehicle was an "active accessory" in causing his injuries. And, Mr. Jarrett re-states his opinion that he does not believe that an act of independent significance occurred when the tree fell on him. In sum, Mr. Jarrett asks the Court to deny Titan's motion for summary judgment.

         In Titan's letter to the Court, filed on October 11, 2017, Titan concedes that the PIP statute requires coverage to any person, "occupying such motor vehicle and to any other person injured in an accident involving such motor vehicle, other than an occupant of another vehicle."[1] Pursuant to this standard, Titan contends that Mr. Jarrett was not an occupant of his vehicle because, according to Titan, "close proximity to an insured vehicle is not enough to warrant extension of PIP coverage." In addition, Titan contends that Mr. Jarrett's vehicle was not an "active accessory" in causing his injuries. Rather, according to Titan, the vehicle was merely the situs of the accident.

         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.[2] All facts are viewed in a light most favorable to the non-moving party.[3] 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.[4] When the facts permit a reasonable person to draw only one inference, the question becomes one for decision as a matter of law.[5] If the non-moving party bears the burden of proof at trial, yet "fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, " then summary judgment may be granted against that party.[6]

         DIS ...


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