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Delaware Supreme Court, in an en banc ruling, upholds jury award of $40,000.00 in wrongful death verdict for Plaintiff’s death in an intersection motor vehicle collision caused by negligence of Delaware State employee driving a van for the Delaware Hospital

On August 26, 2008, the Delaware State Supreme Court, sitting en banc, denied Plaintiffs’ appeal for a new trial in the case of Estate of Alberta Rae, et. al. v. Wade Murphy, et. al. In a jury trial below the jury awarded each of the decedent’s daughters $20,000.00 for the death of their seventy-six year old mother, with whom they lived. In the unanimous decision, Chief Justice Myron Steele opined that, “The jury award here shocks no reasonable person’s conscience given the actual evidence presented and falls within a rational range consistent with that evidence.”

The case arose out of an intersection collision on Delaware State Route 299 in which the driver of a Delaware Hospital for the Chronically van failed to stop at a red-light and entered the intersection at 50 to 55 miles per hour where he struck the car being operated by 76 year old Alberta Rae. The jury found that Ms. Rae died as a result of the collision without suffering any conscious pain or suffering. Therefore, the jury did not award any damages to the Estate of Alberta Rae for her injuries or pain and suffering. The jury did award each of Ms. Rae’s two (2) daughters the sum of $20,000.00 for their pain and suffering as a result of the loss of their mother, with whom they both lived.

The Plaintiff’s appealed the Superior Court Judge’s denial of their Motion for a New Trial or in the Alternative Additur contending the jury award was too low. In addition the Plaintiffs’ appealed the Delaware Superior Court’s granting of summary judgment to defendants on Plaintiffs’ punitive damages claim. The Delaware Supreme Court upheld the Delaware Superior Court’s granting of summary judgment to Defendants on Plaintiffs’ punitive damages claim, stating that exceeding the speed limit by 5 mph and looking away from a red light for a brief amount of time does not “elevate the culpability of his [defendant’s] conduct from negligence to the level of ‘conscious indifference’ or exhibit an ‘I don’t care’ attitude” which would warrant an award assessing punitive damages .

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