Motorist’s Duty Does Not Include Duty to Slow Down in Anticipation of Danger Not Yet Apparent If Driver Is Otherwise Exercising Reasonable Care | Marshall Dennehey

Glass-Hill v. Gordon, 2023 WL 5202615 (Del. Super. Aug. 14, 2023)

The plaintiff, Glass-Hill, was making a left turn at the intersection of 495 South and Philadelphia Pike when Gordon, a southbound driver on Philadelphia Pike in the right lane passing a stopped truck in the left lane, struck her. The plaintiff contended that she made the left turn because the truck driver waved her to proceed, and Gordon responded that the plaintiff nonetheless understood her duty to yield the right of way to oncoming traffic, her failure to do so extinguishing Gordon’s possible negligence liability. Because the plaintiff maintained uninsured motorist coverage through State Farm at the time of the collision, State Farm sat in the position of the unidentified truck driver. The Delaware Superior Court evaluated motions for summary judgment from both Gordon and State Farm, granting Gordon’s and denying State Farm’s.

The court granted Gordon’s motion because it found that he did not have a heightened duty to slow down in anticipation of danger that had not yet become apparent, here Gordon’s continuing to travel at the speed limit past the truck stopped in the left lane. The court denied State Farm’s motion because it found that it is for a jury to determine whether a reasonable person would have interpreted the unidentified driver’s wave as an indication that it was safe to cross and, thus, whether a duty should be imposed. Specifically, where a driver’s wave influences the actions of another, summary judgment is not appropriate because the plaintiff here exercised a degree of independent judgment in deciding to turn, thus, creating a genuine issue of material fact.

The court further discussed whether a defendant is under a duty to protect a plaintiff from the risk of harm that caused her injuries is a question of law for the court to determine—it found Gordon’s conduct to be that of a reasonably prudent person under the circumstances with no reason to expect that the plaintiff would cross his lane of travel. Additionally, the duty imposed by Delaware tort law on motorists to use reasonable care, drive at a reasonable rate of speed under the circumstances, and slow or stop to avoid imminent danger, regardless of the posted speed limit, does not include a duty to slow down in anticipation of danger that has not yet become apparent. Ultimately, the court held that: (1) a driver otherwise obeying his duty as a motorist is not negligent in his failing to anticipate unapparent danger; and (2) an injured driver may be entitled to benefits under her uninsured motorist policy when she was influenced by another driver’s signaling, yet exercised an independent degree of judgment, if a jury finds her decision-making to not have been negligent.

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