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Carter v. Principe

Superior Court of Delaware

January 15, 2019

Meeghan Carter Individually and as Administratrix of the Estate of Margaret Rackerby Flint, Decedent, Plaintiff,
v.
Michael Principe, D.O., Eric Johnson, M.D. and Christiana Care Health Services Inc. Defendants.

          Submitted: December 10, 2018

         On Defendant Christiana Care Health Services, Inc.'s Motion for Partial Summary Judgment DENIED

          Leroy A. Tice, Esq., Leroy A. Tice P.A., Attorney for Plaintiff

          Joshua H. Meyeroff, Esq., Morris James LLP, Attorneys for Defendant Christiana Care Health Services, Inc.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          HONORABLE MARY M. JOHNSTON, JUDGE.

         The parties in this medical negligence action engaged in mediation. Plaintiffs resolved their claims against Dr. Principe and his practice and executed a Joint Tortfeasor Release. The release neither names nor explicitly releases any of the other defendants. No specific language preserved any potential claims against Defendant Christiana Care Health Services ("CCHS").

         It is undisputed that direct claims remain against Dr. Johnson and his practice.

         Summary Judgment Standard

         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.[1] All facts are viewed in a light most favorable to the non-moving party.[2] Summary judgment 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.[3] When the facts permit a reasonable person to draw only one inference, the question becomes one for decision as a matter of law.[4] 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.[5]

         Release of Joint Tortfeasor

         CCHS has moved for partial summary judgment. CCHS requests that the Court determine, as a matter of first impression in Delaware, that by settling claims against Dr. Principe and his practice, Plaintiffs cannot pursue claims against CCHS solely on a theory of vicarious liability. CCHS asserts that a principal who committed no tortious act, is not a tortfeasor.[6] Thus, CCHS must be dismissed because it can only be found liable if its agent is liable, and the agent has been released.[7]

         The Uniform Contribution Among Tortfeasors Act ("UCATA") addresses the circumstance when only one joint tortfeasor is released.

(a) A release by the injured person of 1 joint tortfeasor, whether before or after judgment, does not discharge the other tortfeasor unless the release so provides; but reduces the claim against the other tortfeasors in the amount of the consideration paid for the release or in any amount or proportion by which the release provides that the total claim shall be reduced, if greater than the consideration paid.
(b) A release by the injured person of 1 joint tortfeasor does not relieve the 1 joint tortfeasor from liability to make contribution to another joint tortfeasor unless the release is given before the right of the other tortfeasor to secure a money judgment for contribution has accrued, and provides for a reduction, to the extent of the pro rate share of the released ...

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