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Martin v. Sposato Landscape Co., Inc.

Superior Court of Delaware

February 22, 2018

REGINALD MARTIN, Plaintiff,
v.
SPOSATO LANDSCAPE COMPANY, INC., SPOSATO INVESTMENT LLC, JEREMY A. BAKER, and SAMUEL F. TULL, Defendants. CAPITOL CLEANERS & LAUNDERERS, INC., and PENINSULA INDEMNITY COMPANY, a/s/o/ REGINALD MARTIN, Plaintiffs,
v.
SAMUEL F. TULL, STATE FARM MUTUAL AUTOMOBILE INSURANCE COMPANY, JEREMY A. BAKER, SPOSATO LANDSCAPE COMPANY, INC., SPOSATO INVESTMENT LLC, and THE CINCINNATI INSURANCE COMPANY, Defendants.

          Submitted: November 15, 2017

         On Defendants' Motion to Dismiss.

          Calvin L. Scott, Judge

         DENIED.

          Defendants Jeremy A. Baker, Sposato Landscape Company, Inc., and Cincinnati Insurance Company ("Defendants") moved to dismiss the Complaint pursuant to Superior Court Civil Rule 12(b)(6). Defendants State Farm and Samuel F. Tull joined the Motion. For the following reasons, Defendants' Motion to Dismiss is DENIED.

         Background

         On September 10, 2013, Plaintiff Reginald Martin ("Plaintiff Martin") was a passenger in a vehicle while in the course and scope of his employment with Plaintiff Capitol Cleaners & Launderers, Inc. ("Plaintiff Capitol"). Plaintiff Peninsula Indemnity Company ("Plaintiff Peninsula") is the workman's compensation insurance for Plaintiff Capitol. Plaintiff Martin's vehicle was struck by both Defendant Jeremy A. Baker ("Defendant Baker"), who was operating a vehicle while in the course and scope of employment with Defendant Sposato Landscape Company, Inc. ("Defendant Sposato"), and a vehicle owned by Defendant Samuel F. Tull ("Defendant Tull"). Defendant Cincinnati Insurance Company ("Defendant Cincinnati") is the liability carrier for Defendant Baker's vehicle, and Defendant State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company ("Defendant State Farm") is the liability insurance company for the vehicle driven by Defendant Tull. Plaintiff Reginald Martin filed a third party liability personal injury suit against Defendants Baker, Tull, and Sposato. That case was subsequently consolidated with this case initiated by Plaintiffs Capitol and Peninsula.

         Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss on the basis that 10 Del. C. § 2363(a) does not permit an action by both the individual, here Plaintiff Reginald Martin, and the employer and compensation carrier. Plaintiffs Capitol and Peninsula filed a Response. In their Response Plaintiffs argue that Defendants' argument lacks support from both the plain reading of the statute and Delaware case law. Additionally, Plaintiffs Capitol and Peninsula agree that Plaintiffs' remedies are specifically limited to 10 Del. C. § 2363(e) and the Plaintiffs' subrogated rights of recovery are limited to the third-party liability insurers, but Plaintiffs disagree with Defendants' contention that the employer and insurance carrier are inappropriate parties to the action. Plaintiff Reginald Martin did not participate in briefing.

         Discussion

         Pertinent to this action, 19 Del. C. § 2363(a) states:

Where the injury for which compensation is payable under this chapter was caused under circumstances creating a legal liability in some person other than a natural person in the same employ or the employer to pay damages in respect thereof, the acceptance of compensation benefits or the taking of proceedings to enforce compensation payments shall not act as an election of remedies, but such injured employee or the employee's dependents or their personal representative may also proceed to enforce the liability of such third party for damages in accordance with this section. If the injured employee or the employee's dependents or personal representative does not commence such action within 260 days after the occurrence of the personal injury, then the employer or its compensation insurance carrier may, within the period of time for the commencement of actions prescribed by statute, enforce the liability of such other person in the name of that person . . . Any party in interest shall have a right to join in said suit.[1]

         Defendants' argument is that this section of the statute prohibits the employer, insurance carrier, and the employee who were injured from suing the third party. However, 10 Del. C. §§ 2363(b) and (c) states:

(b) Prior to the entry of judgment, either the employer or the employer's insurance carrier or the employee or the employee's personal representative may settle their claims as their interest shall appear and may execute releases therefor.
(c) Such settlement and release by the employee shall not be a bar to action by the employer or its compensation insurance carrier to proceed against said third party for any interest or claim it might have, and such settlement and release by the employer or its compensation insurance carrier shall not be a bar to action by the employee ...

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