Delaware Auto Accident Law


Overview of Delaware Accident Law

Below are some frequently asked questions about Delaware car accident law. Keep in mind the law is changing and some of this could be incorrect. Always verify any conclusions you draw that are important to you with a Delaware attorney.

Does Delaware use the collateral source rule in accident cases?

The collateral source rule prohibits admission of evidence showing that an injured party received compensation or payments for tort related injuries from a third party source other than the tortfeasor. In other words, you can claim your medical bills, lost wages, and other damages even if they were paid anyway by your employer or health insurance company (or anyone else).

This rule prevents juries from possibly awarding a lesser amount to the plaintiff because of any other compensation the plaintiff has received.  The rule makes sense since it would be unfair for the defendant to benefit from money that the plaintiff received from sources unconnected with the defendant and, frankly, it helps plaintiffs pay for their attorneys' fees in an effort to be made whole.

The collateral source rule is “firmly embedded” in Delaware law.  In 2010, the Supreme Court of Delaware considered whether or not the collateral source rule applied in underinsured motorist cases in Miller v. State Farm.

In this case, plaintiff was driving his employer’s car when he was struck and injured by a car operated by the defendant.  Because plaintiff's accident occurred while he was working, plaintiff received workers’ compensation benefits and a settlement from his employer’s workers’ compensation carrier.  Plaintiff sued his insurer, State Farm, for underinsured motorist coverage under his insurance policy.  At trial however, the court allowed evidence of plaintiff's workers’ compensation payments and the jury awarded $0 in damages to the plaintiff.  He appealed, claiming that the trial court violated the collateral source rule by letting the jury know about his workers’ compensation payments. 

The Supreme Court, emphasizing that State Farm and the workers’ compensation carrier had no connection whatsoever – plaintiff paid for the State Farm insurance whereas his employer paid for the workers’ compensation insurance.  Because State Farm did not contribute to his workers’ compensation in any way, State Farm should not be allowed to benefit from it. The take home message is that collateral source common law rule is solid in Delaware.

But, the Delaware legislature has limited the collateral source rule. The Delaware personal injury protection (no-fault) statute limits the collateral source rule by precluding an insured from suing a tortfeasor for money paid out in PIP. So PIP payments are not subject to the collateral source rule in Delaware.

What are the minimum policy limits in Delaware?

            The Delaware Motorists Protection Act regulates the minimum policy limits.  For bodily injury liability, the minimum policy limit is $15,000 for any one person and $30,000 for all persons injured in any one accident.  The minimum for property damage liability is $10,000 each accident.  The minimum policy limit for personal injury protection is $15,000 for any one person and $30,000 for all persons injured in any one accident.  The minimum for damage to property other than a motor vehicle is $10,000 for any one accident. These limits are ridiculously low and underscore the firm hold the insurance lobby has over the Delaware legislatures.

Does Delaware have PIP/no fault insurance?

            Delaware requires no-fault insurance as part of every automobile insurance coverage. This coverage protects you if the driver has no insurance, the accident was a hit and run or a phantom vehicle, or the other driver does not have enough insurance. It is part of the personal injury protection required under the Delaware Motorists Protection Act.  The minimum insurance coverage for no-fault personal injury protection includes any medical or funeral expenses and any lost wages incurred within 2 years from the date of the accident.  However, compensation for pain and suffering is not included under no-fault insurance.  Although the minimum policy limit is $15,000 for any one person and $30,000 for all persons injured in one accident, some Delaware insurance carriers offer additional policy coverage for higher limits.

Is there a cap on non-economic damages or punitive damages in Delaware?

There is no cap on punitive damages or non-economic damages in Delaware, one consumer friendly component of Delaware accident law.

Uninsured motorist claims in Delaware

By law, Delaware automobile insurance companies must offer uninsured motorist coverage to everyone who purchases Delaware car insurance.  They must offer to sell uninsured motorist coverage either as supplemental coverage, or part of an insurance policy.  However, people who do not wish to purchase uninsured motorist coverage may sign a waiver to exclude uninsured motorist insurance from their insurance policy.   

Delaware allows for stacking of insurance policies - interpolicy stacking of putting the UM policy on top of the underlying policy- under some limited circumstances. Delaware allows stacking if the amount of underinsured motorist coverage exceeds the policy limits of the defendant. But if the defendant has a policy equal to or greater than the victim, the client is not considered to be underinsured under Delaware law. This is a real incentive for Delaware drivers to buy a large uninsured motorist policy.