Submitted Date: October 8, 2018
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.
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.
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
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. 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. 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.
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.
argue that the present case is analogous to the case
Howell v. Kusters. 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,  Additionally,
Plaintiffs argue that the facts of this case are similar to a
Delaware Supreme Court decision, Porter v.
Turner. 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.
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
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 ...