Individuals who are injured in auto accidents in Delaware may be able to obtain fair and reasonable financial compensation for their physical injuries, economic losses and pain and suffering. In addition, in limited cases, injured individuals may be able to make a special claim for punitive damages. Click here to read more about punitive damages in Delaware car accident cases.
Punitive Damages in Delaware Tort Cases
Punitive damages are generally reserved for cases in which the at-fault party shows a requisite level of recklessness; negligence and even gross negligence are not enough. The difference between reckless conduct and negligence/gross negligence is a matter of degree and depends heavily on the facts of a given case.
Factors in a Punitive Damages Auto Accident Case
There are multiple factors Delaware courts will consider when deciding whether to allow a punitive damages claim. Some of the most common factors include:
- alcohol/drug use,
- cell phone use, and
- excessive speeding.
It is important to note that Delaware courts are more inclined to allow claims for punitive damages where drivers engage in multiple acts. For example, a claim for punitive damages may be allowed in a situation where the at-fault driver was texting and speeding in a school zone. In Maguire v. Leggio (1971), the court upheld the plaintiff’s claim for punitive damages where the evidence showed that the at-fault driver increased speed while in heavy traffic and heavy rain, despite warnings from passengers to slow down.
Punitive Damages for Cell Phone Use
In Howell v. Kusters (2010), the Delaware Superior Court allowed the plaintiff’s claim for punitive damages. The evidence showed that the at-fault driver was talking on her cell phone, speeding 20 miles over the speed limit and went straight through the intersection without applying the brakes. The court held that there was enough evidence to support a finding that the driver acted with conscious indifference.
Punitive Damages for Running a Red Light
In Porter v. Turner (2008), the Delaware Supreme Court affirmed an award of punitive damages and found that the evidence was sufficient to support a finding that the at-fault driver showed a willful and wanton disregard for the rights of other motorists. The at-fault driver was driving a tractor trailer and proceeded through a red light after first stopping for 8 seconds.
Punitive Damages for Speaking to a Passenger
In Estate of Rae v. Murphy (2008), the Delaware Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s denial of the plaintiff’s claim for punitive damages. The evidence showed that the at-fault driver was speeding slightly and turned his head to talk to a passenger when he ran a red light. The court found these facts only established negligence and did not rise to the level of reckless indifference required to sustain a claim for punitive damages.
Punitive Damages for Physical/Mental Illness
In Angelo v. Dean (1982), the Delaware Superior Court denied a claim for punitive damages where there was vague evidence that the at-fault driver was physically or mentally ill prior to driving and only drove to prove to her husband that she could drive.
Punitive Damages for Speeding
In and of itself, speeding is probably insufficient to warrant a claim for punitive damages. See Elliott v. Jewell, a 1997 Delaware Superior Court case where the court upheld a claim for punitive damages where the at-fault driver drove at a high rate of speed (70-75 miles per hour) into a sharp curve he was familiar with.
For a free consultation in a car accident case in Delaware, please call (302) 658-1717. Firm founder Martin Knepper has been handling auto accident cases since 1982.
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