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Willon v. Werb

Superior Court of Delaware

December 9, 2019

Victoria L. Willon, et al.
v.
Duane D. Werb,

          Emily P. Laursen, Esquire Kimmel, Carter, Roman, Peltz & O'Neill, P.A

          Louis J. Rizzo, Jr., Esquire Rizzo & Darnall LLP

          Vivian L. Medinilla Judge

         Dear Counsel:

         This is the Court's decision on Defendant Duane D. Werb's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment as to Plaintiffs' Claims for Willful and Wanton Conduct and Any Potential Demand for Punitive Damages. After consideration of all pleadings and the oral arguments on December 2, 2019, for the reasons stated below, Defendant's Motion is GRANTED.

         Factual and Procedural Background[1]

         In December 2016, Plaintiff Sean A. Dotson and Plaintiff Victoria Willon ("Plaintiffs") were involved in a vehicular collision with Defendant Duane D. Werb ("Defendant"), who was operating a vehicle owned by Ean Holdings, LLC ("Ean Holdings"). Plaintiffs allege that this collision resulted in personal injuries and damages to Plaintiffs. Plaintiffs allege that Defendant was negligent and/or careless, reckless and wanton, and that Defendant's conduct is imputed to Ean Holdings. Plaintiffs request judgment against Defendants, jointly and severally, for their general and special damages.

         On August 26, 2019, Defendant filed Motion for Partial Summary Judgment as to Plaintiffs' Claims for Willful and Wanton Conduct and Any Potential Demand for Punitive Damages. On November 22, 2019, Plaintiffs filed their Response. On December 2, 2019, the Court heard oral argument.

         Standard of Review

         Under Superior Court Civil Rule 56, the burden of proof on a Motion for Summary Judgment falls on the moving party to demonstrate that "there is no genuine issues as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law."[2] If the moving party satisfies its initial burden, the non-moving party must sufficiently establish the "existence of one or more genuine issues of material fact."[3] Summary judgment will not be granted if there is a material fact in dispute or if "it seems desirable to inquire thoroughly into [the facts] in order to clarify the application of the law to the circumstances."[4] In considering the motion, "[a]ll facts and reasonable inferences must be considered in a light most favorable to the non-moving party."[5] However, the Court shall not "indulge in speculation and conjecture; a motion for summary judgment is decided on the record presented and not on evidence potentially possible."[6]

         Discussion

         The Delaware Supreme Court has indicated that "[t]here is a clear distinction between wantonness and negligence, as the former term includes the elements of consciousness of one's conduct, realization of the probability of injury to another, and disregard of the consequences."[7] In other words, a "[w]illful or wanton disregard of a plaintiffs rights-as opposed to negligence-reflects a 'conscious indifference' or an 'I-don't-care attitude.'"[8] However, if there is not sufficient evidence to show the conduct rose to the level of recklessness, the Court may remove from the trial the potential prejudice that may occur in the plaintiffs' efforts to support this allegation.[9]

         Plaintiffs argue that because Defendant was involved in another car accident two weeks prior to this collision, there are facts regarding that accident that may create a viable claim for punitive damages. The theory advanced is that following the first accident, Defendant made a choice not to seek medical treatment. Plaintiffs allege that Defendant's conscious decision to get behind the wheel of a motor vehicle without any assurance that he could safely do so is a factual dispute for the jury to consider for their punitive damage claim. This Court disagrees.

         The Court originally denied prior dispositive motions to allow Plaintiffs to conduct discovery to determine whether the level of impairment alleged supported their claims for both compensatory and punitive damages. Having completed discovery, the record presents no factual basis supporting a conclusion that Defendant acted by "purpose or ...


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