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Ford v. Taylor

Superior Court of Delaware

November 15, 2018

KEVIN FORD, and BRENDA FORD, Plaintiffs,

          Submitted Date: October 8, 2018

          Upon Defendant's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment. Denied.

          Stephen A. Hampton, Esq. and Anthony V. Panicola, Esq., Grady and Hampton, LLC, Attorneys for Plaintiff

          Theodore J. Segletes, III, Esq., Law Offices of Chrissinger & Baumberger, Attorney for Defendant


          STOKES, R. J.


         This matter is presently before the Court on the motion of the Defendant, Mitchell Brookshaw Taylor ("Defendant"), for partial summary judgment on the issue of punitive damages against the Plaintiffs Kevin Ford and Brenda Ford ("Plaintiffs"). The Plaintiffs oppose the Motion. For the foregoing reasons, Defendant's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment on Punitive Damages is DENIED.

         II. FACTS

         This motion for summary judgment arises out of a motor vehicle accident involving Defendant and Plaintiffs that occurred on July 19, 2015. Prior to the accident Defendant had finished an approximately 10-hour shift as manager of a shop on the Rehoboth boardwalk at 11:30 p.m. Defendant ate during his shift at 8:00 p.m. After the restaurant closed Defendant remained at the restaurant in order to clean and prepare for the following day until 1:00 a.m., which was typical of his duties as manager. At this time Defendant left his place of work and began to drive north on SR-1 towards Milford to visit friends.

         Plaintiffs were stopped at a red light at the intersection of US-9 and SR-1. Plaintiffs were in the first vehicle stopped at the traffic signal and proceeded into the intersection as soon as the signal turned from red to green. Plaintiffs observed at least one vehicle stopped at the red traffic signal in the direction Defendant was traveling.[1] While Plaintiffs were stopped at the intersection, Defendant was traveling on SR-1 at an estimated speed of 50-55 miles per hour in a pickup truck. The posted speed limit was 45 miles per hour. Defendant then received a telephone call from his father, which he answered. Some distance before the intersection, and after answering the telephone call from his father, Defendant observed that the traffic signal was green. Defendant claims that the phone was on speakerphone and placed in a cup holder during the conversation, while Plaintiffs contend that the phone was likely held in Defendant's hand. As Defendant approached the intersection he claims that the last time he looked at the traffic light was "about a minute before" the collision occurred.[2] Defendant did not see the light turn yellow and then red. Defendant then drove through a red traffic signal and a collision occurred with Plaintiffs' vehicle. Defendant admits that he was negligent and careless in the operation of his motor vehicle because he was distracted while talking on his cellphone. Both Plaintiffs and Defendant's cars were totaled in the collision.


         Plaintiffs contend that a jury could find that Defendant was: (1) holding his cellphone at the time of the collision; (2) distracted by his phone conversation with his father; (3) completely unaware of anyone else or anything on the road; (4) impaired for driving because he was tired and hungry; and (5) for one minute or more, he did not bother paying attention to the traffic on the road around him, the traffic light ahead of him, or the speed of his vehicle. Plaintiffs assert that the arguments mentioned above, coupled with the facts that Defendant had not eaten since 8:00 p.m. and had worked a 10-hour shift, are sufficient to establish that the Defendant demonstrated a "conscious indifference" or "I don't care" attitude, which would warrant an award of punitive damages.

         Plaintiffs argue that the present case is analogous to the case Howell v. Kusters.[3] In Howell, the Superior Court granted a motion to amend plaintiffs complaint to add a punitive damages claim where a defendant ran a red light, was talking on a cell phone, never applied the brakes, and was traveling 20 miles an hour over the speed limit. Plaintiffs allege that Defendant was talking on a cellphone, never applied his brakes, and was talking on a cellphone similarly to the plaintiff in Howell, [4] Additionally, Plaintiffs argue that the facts of this case are similar to a Delaware Supreme Court decision, Porter v. Turner.[5] Plaintiffs contend that because Defendant testified, "I don't recall the light between noticing it was green from about a minute away from the collision", this case is similar to Porter. In Porter, the Court upheld a decision that a jury could assess punitive damages when a plaintiff faced a red traffic signal for 8 seconds or longer and accelerated through the intersection causing a collision.[6]

         Defendant, on the other hand, contends that he was negligent and careless in talking on his phone while operating a motor vehicle. Defendant refutes, however, that there is any evidence he acted intentionally, or wantonly, or he willfully disregarded the rights of the plaintiffs. He also contends that his actions did not reflect an "I don't care attitude". Defendant believes that his conduct was nothing more than a simple mistake or an error of judgment. Defendant's primary argument is that punitive damages will only be awarded in automobile personal injury cases where there is a showing of truly outrageous and extreme conduct.

         Defendant distinguishes this case from the Porter case because Plaintiffs immediately entered the intersection once the signal changed. Defendant also alleges that the last he remembered the traffic light, it was green, and only turned red long enough for a single car (Plaintiffs' vehicle) to enter the intersection before the collision. On the other hand, in Porter, facts presented demonstrated that the plaintiff faced a red light for 8 seconds or more, nevertheless decided to accelerate through the intersection, and crashed into the second vehicle that ...

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