Kimmel Carter partner William Peltz recently ensured that an award of almost $400,000 was upheld for two clients who were severely injured by an uninsured motorist in 2011, during an en banc hearing before the Supreme Court of Delaware in February.
In July of 2013, Peltz filed suit on behalf of his clients for personal injury and damages against the responsible driver, or tortfeasor. In October of the same year, the Superior Court of New Castle County entered a default judgment against the tortfeasor, referring the case to a Superior Court Commissioner for an inquisition hearing to determine the extent of the damages.
During this time, Peltz determined that the tortfeasor’s insurance policy had been cancelled, meaning that any monetary compensation Peltz’s clients would receive would need to be provided by their uninsured motorist (UM) policy provider. The UM provider was then notified about the inquisition hearing so that the company would have the opportunity to participate.
Despite being notified almost three months in advance of the January 7, 2014 hearing, the provider did not send a representative to defend the company on the issue of damages. Following the hearing, the Superior Court Commissioner reserved decision, meaning that he chose to take time to consider the case before delivering his findings and recommendation. Then on January 15, the provider filed a motion to “intervene to stay,” or halt, the delivery of the Commissioner’s decision and the proceedings that would follow.
An additional hearing was scheduled to determine the validity of the provider’s motion, but the Commissioner issued his findings before that date arrived, recommending judgment in favor of Peltz’s clients and against the tortfeasor. When the issue of the insurance company’s ability to intervene was then heard on February 27, the Superior Court denied the provider’s motion, holding that the company sat on its rights in not appearing at the inquisition hearing. On March 6, 2014, the Superior Court adopted the Commissioner’s recommendation of judgment against the tortfeasor and awarded a total of $390,000 to Peltz’s clients.
The provider subsequently appealed to the Supreme Court of Delaware to reverse the Superior Court’s denial of their motion. The case was brought before a panel of Supreme Court justices, but after Peltz and the provider’s counsel presented their arguments, the court determined that the issue should be reargued en banc, or before the whole court.
En banc orders are often made when a case is particularly unusual. The Delaware Supreme Court had previously ruled in Sutch v. State Farm that a UM carrier could be held responsible for compensating a driver if a judgment had already been entered and the insurance provider had participated in the underlying proceedings. Peltz’s case differed in that the UM provider had attempted to intervene before a judgment was actually entered but following a hearing of which they had been put on notice, a scenario that the court had not yet addressed.
When the reargument was heard on February 18, 2015, the Supreme Court ultimately affirmed the Superior Court’s denial of the provider’s motion to intervene. Guided by Peltz’s argument, the justices seconded the lower court’s determination that since the provider had received adequate notice of the inquisition hearing and had failed to either attend or motion to intervene in the proceedings at that time, the insurance provider had forfeited its right to contest the award.
With the provider’s motion to intervene denied, the award that was originally recommended by the Superior Court in 2014 was upheld. Along with successfully ensuring that his clients would receive the award, Peltz contributed to the Supreme Court making a decision on an issue it had not yet had the chance to address, with the Court determining that a UM provider loses the right to contest an award in a personal injury case when they fail to either intervene prior to or choose to participate in a key hearing of which they have been notified, even if they do so prior to the judgment being entered.