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Saturday, October 19, 2019

Middle driver in three-car rear-ender avoids liability in Delaware decision

By Elizabeth Alt | Nov 30, 2017

WILMINGTON, Del. (Legal Newsline) – The Delaware Superior Court has ruled that a man involved in a three-vehicle accident in Newark, Delaware, had not acted neglectfully when he hit a woman’s car after his own car was rear-ended.

Justice Calvin L. Scott stated in the court opinion on Nov. 16 that the plaintiff had failed to prove that the defendant was negligent and that his vehicle was not at a full stop at the time of the accident. 

“Summary judgment is appropriate as there are no material facts in dispute,” Scott stated.

Donna Gibson sued Gary Higgins, John Doordan and Metropolitan Group Property and Casualty Insurance Co. after the parties were involved in a car accident on Sept. 18, 2015. 

The motorists were driving on Main Street when the accident occurred. Higgins said Doordan testified that the sun was in his eyes, making him think a red light was green, and he rear-ended Higgins, who then struck Gibson’s vehicle in front of him. Gibson claimed that Higgins’ car was not completely stopped behind her, and stated that she felt two separate impacts.

Gibson sued each motorist and their insurance companies, but Higgins filed a motion for summary judgment in July. Higgins stated in the May deposition that his car was completely stopped at the time of impact, and the force of Doordan’s car hitting his caused Higgins to rear-end Gibson, not any negligent act on his part. 

Scott said in the court opinion, “Plaintiff has the burden of showing that a defendant owed her a legal duty, the defendant breached that duty, and she sustained an 'injury proximately caused by that breach.'”

Higgins claimed that Gibson could not prove what either driver or car had been doing prior to the accident, citing Gibson’s testimony that she had been looking forward the entire time and did not see what happened. 

In deposition, Doordan and Higgins both testified that Higgins came to a complete stop. Gibson claimed that she did not actually see whether Higgins was stopped because she was paying attention only to the road, but attempted to use the grounds of a previous case.

Both Gibson and Higgins attempted to use a similar case, Smith v. Haldeman, to support their claims. In Smith, the middle driver was found not negligent because it couldn’t be proved that the middle driver had not been stopped at time of accident. Gibson claimed that because she felt two separate impacts, it could be inferred that Higgins had not fully stopped his vehicle.

Scott stated, “There is no evidence that Mr. Higgins was acting negligently before his vehicle struck plaintiff’s vehicle. Based on this evidence, a reasonable jury could not infer that Mr. Higgins struck plaintiff’s vehicle first or that he was acting negligently.”

The plaintiff is represented by Joseph J. Rhoades and Stephen T. Morrow of Rhoades & Morrow LLC in Wilmington, Delaware.

Gary Higgins is represented by Lisa M. Grubb of the Law Office of Cynthia G. Beam in Newark, Delaware.

Tracy A. Burleigh of Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman & Goggin in Wilmington, Delaware represents defendant Metropolitan Group Property and Casualty Co.

John Doordan is represented by Robert D. Cecil Jr., Tybout, Redfearn & Pell, Wilmington, Delaware.

Superior Court of the State of Delaware case number N16C-10-087 CLS

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Delaware Superior Court