Despite being the second smallest state in the U.S., Delaware has diverse industries and workplaces—which means a huge number of unprecedented accidents are highly likely to occur.
Car accidents are one of the most common types of personal injury cases in the Blue Hen State. In a report released by the National Safety Council, a 43% increase in road-related accidents was observed, leading to a recorded 23 deaths in the first half of 2022 alone. Overall in the past year, the state also had 165 deaths from traffic incidents. In order to mitigate these figures, which have grown at breakneck speed, the Delaware State Police and the Office of Highway Safety launched the zero-tolerance speed initiative in January 2023. The campaign aims to crack down on road users with bad driving behaviors and promote safety on the road.
Workplace accidents are also prevalent in the state. In a study conducted by the State of Delaware in partnership with the United States Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, a total of 8,300 non-fatal injuries and illnesses were reported in the workplace in 2021. These statistics included the private and public sectors, self-employed individuals, the military, and voluntary organizations.
When an individual sustains a serious injury due to an accident or someone else’s negligence, this can bring negative effects on their physical, mental, emotional, and financial well-being. Knowing the right approach can make a significant difference in recovering and seeking compensation. This article will delve into several crucial aspects of personal injury law in Delaware.
Auto Insurance Requirements in Delaware
In Delaware, all vehicles are required to have insurance from companies licensed by the state’s Insurance Commissioner. The state follows the 25/50/10 rule, which means drivers must have at least the following minimum coverage amounts:
$25,000 per person for bodily injuries - This coverage will cover medical expenses, rehabilitation costs, and other expenditures due to the accident.
$50,000 per accident for bodily injuries - This is the maximum payable amount to compensate for the accident.
$10,000 per accident for property damage - This coverage helps pay for the repair or replacement of property damaged in an accident, such as vehicles, fences, or other structures.
Individuals should also purchase personal injury protection insurance with a minimum coverage of $15,000. Additionally, drivers are required to have their own valid Delaware insurance ID, which they must carry and present to attending officers in the event of an accident.
Failing to comply with the mandatory vehicle insurance requirements comes with penalties and punishments. Violators may face the following consequences:
$1,500 for the first offense
$3,000 for subsequent offenses, plus the suspension of their vehicle registration
Delaware Slip-and-Fall Accidents
Slip-and-fall incidents refer to accidents where a person slips, trips, or falls on someone else's property due to hazardous conditions, resulting in injuries.
Slips and falls are among the leading causes of injury in Delaware and the second most preeminent cause of workplace fatality throughout the U.S., according to a National Safety Council report. There have been almost 50,000 injuries and illnesses due to fall accidents to lower levels, and more than 12,000 of them are from ages 45-54. Meanwhile, 127,680 incidents of falls to the same level were recorded in 2020, the majority of which involved the 55-64 age range.
According to Delaware Health and Social Services, one in every four older adults in the state falls each year, and one out of every five falls leads to serious complications and injuries.
These figures raise a huge concern in relation to the safety of Delawareans on premises away from their homes.
Property owners in the state are mandated to exercise reasonable care in ensuring that their premises are reasonably safe for visitors. This duty applies to invited guests and individuals who enter their property for legitimate reasons, such as customers, clients, or tenants. They should identify potential hazards and take appropriate measures to address and eliminate them.
Here's an example to illustrate a slip-and-fall scenario: let's say a grocery store has recently experienced a water leak in its refrigerated section. Despite being aware of the leak, the store fails to promptly repair it or place warning signs to alert customers of the slippery area. As a result, a customer walks through the leak and slips, falling and injuring their back.
In this situation, the injured customer may have grounds for a slip-and-fall claim against the grocery store. They can seek compensation for their medical expenses, pain and suffering, lost wages, and other relevant damages resulting from the slip and fall.
Delaware Workers’ Compensation Insurance Laws
Delaware has specific laws to protect workers who suffer injuries or illnesses while at work. In a report by the Delaware Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries, there have been seven fatal work injuries in the state for the year 2020, all of which happened in the private sector.
It was also stated in the report that two out of seven fatal injuries were caused by falls, slips, and trips. Even though the statistics from the report were not that high, they still showed the need for the state to have strong worker protection laws in place.
Employers in Delaware are generally mandated to have workers’ compensation insurance, which helps provide medical treatment, wage replacement, and other important assistance to employees who experience work-related illnesses and injuries. It is a way to make sure that workers have access to the care they need and are not burdened by the financial implications of their job-related health issues.
There are, however, certain exceptions that apply, as stated on the Government of Delaware website:
Workers who are classified as independent contractors, rather than employees, are not covered under workers' compensation insurance.
Farm workers are exempt from the workers’ compensation statute, and it is the employer’s decision if they want to provide additional protection and support for their employees.
What Should Employers in Delaware Do When an Employee Is Injured?
The State of Delaware has provided steps employers should take when their employees get injured at work.
Employers must ensure that the injured employee receives all the required medical, surgical, and hospital treatment right from the day of the accident.
Employers are responsible for maintaining accurate records of all employee injuries and filing a written report, which will be submitted to both the Office of Workers' Compensation and their insurance carrier. It helps initiate the workers' compensation process and ensures proper documentation of the incident.
Employers need to determine the average weekly wages of the injured employee, as this helps calculate the appropriate compensation for disability beyond the third day after the accident. They must also adhere to the provisions of the law regarding compensation and provide the employee with the designated benefits.
Product Liability Laws in Delaware
Every year, numerous Delawareans suffer injuries caused by defective or poorly manufactured products. To address this issue and protect consumers, Delaware, like many other states, has established product liability laws to hold manufacturers, distributors, and sellers accountable for any harm caused by their products. Product liability laws ensure that injured individuals have the right to seek compensation for damages resulting from a defective or unsafe product.
Under the product liability laws, there are three types of product defects that can lead to legal liability:
Defects in the design - These refer to defects that exist in a product before it is manufactured. While the product may appear functional, it can still be unreasonably dangerous due to a flaw in its structure or makeup.
Manufacturing defects - These occur during the construction or production process of a product. These defects may not be present in all products of the same type, but only in a few. For example, a batch of a particular item may have been incorrectly assembled or may have included faulty components.
Defects in marketing - This kind of defect pertains to issues such as improper instructions or failure to adequately warn consumers about potential dangers associated with the product's use. Manufacturers and suppliers are responsible for providing clear instructions and appropriate warnings to ensure consumer safety and prevent harm.
Individuals who have been injured by a faulty product should seek medical attention immediately before anything else. They are also advised to keep a copy of their medical record and expenses as they can use this for a legal claim.
Delaware Dog Bite Injury Laws
According to Delaware Health and Social Services, more than 80% of dogs responsible for fatal attacks on humans have not undergone spaying or neutering procedures. Alarmingly, it was also mentioned in the report that nearly half of the dog-biting incidents involve vulnerable children under the age of five. This concerning statistic underscores the significance of the surgical procedure in mitigating the potential risks associated with aggressive behavior in dogs.
One notable thing about the dog bite injury laws in the state is that they cover all injuries and victims—including non-humans. Dog attacks occur for a reason, and it is important for them to be properly investigated.
For dog attacks, the principle of common law negligence comes into play. According to this principle, individuals have a responsibility to exercise reasonable care toward others, which means they should take as many precautions as possible to prevent their dogs from causing harm to others.
In a dog bite lawsuit, victims can seek compensation for the damages they have obtained. There are situations where these damages can also serve as a form of punishment for the dog owner or another party responsible for the negligence. Victims can receive compensation for both economic and non-economic losses that stem from the dog bite incident, including medical expenses, lost wages, physical pain, emotional suffering, and psychological trauma.
Delaware Comparative Negligence Laws
In Delaware, personal injury cases operate under the comparative negligence rule. This basically means that when determining compensation, the percentage of fault assigned to each party involved is taken into account. A plaintiff can seek compensation for their injuries as long as their degree of fault does not exceed 50% in relation to the accident. If a court finds that the plaintiff is 51% or more at fault, they will be unable to recover any damages.
Let's say an injured party is found to be 30% at fault for an accident, and the total damages amount to $100,000. To sum it up, the injured party would be entitled to recover $70,000 ($100,000 minus 30% of $100,000) in compensation.
Simply put, here’s a table that Delawareans can refer to:
Plaintiff's Level of Fault
The plaintiff was found 10% at fault for the accident.
The plaintiff can receive compensation of up to 90% of their total damages.
The plaintiff was found 50% at fault for the accident.
They will receive 50% of the compensation for the damages they have incurred.
The plaintiff was found 51% at fault for the accident.
They are not entitled to any compensation for their damages.
This approach recognizes that multiple parties may contribute to an accident to varying degrees, and it ensures that individuals are not completely barred from seeking compensation solely due to their level of fault. Instead, the payment is adjusted to reflect the responsibility of each party involved.
How Much Can Someone Sue for an Injury in Delaware?
In Delaware, there are no caps on personal injury damages, so citizens who have suffered harm due to others’ negligence or wrongdoing are not restricted in the amount of compensation they can receive.
For instance, in 2019, a plaintiff filed a lawsuit against a motor vehicle driver in Newcastle County in Delaware. The plaintiff was hit by the defendant while driving along Salem Church Road in Newark, which resulted in serious personal injury. This case resulted in the plaintiff receiving a total of $1,800,000 in compensation, including punitive damages.
Since there are no caps, each case will always be different, and it still takes careful evaluation to determine a fair and reasonable claim. This is why individuals who have been injured in an accident caused by someone else’s negligence are advised to consult with a qualified personal injury attorney to guide them through the legal steps.
The Statute of Limitations in Delaware
As a general rule, personal injury cases must be filed within two years from the date the injury was obtained. This rule applies to most cases, including car accidents, premises liability, and product liability.
There are, however, special limitations for specific cases. For medical malpractice lawsuits, the same two-year statute of limitations still applies, but if an individual is late to discover their injuries, they can file within three years.
Here are other exceptions Delaware residents must know of:
A minor who obtains a personal injury can only file as soon as they turn 18, and they have three years from their 18th birthday to do so.
If the defendant leaves Delaware shortly after the injury occurs, the statute of limitations will be put on hold and will only start running as soon as they return to the state.
Legal Resources for Injured Folks in Delaware
The Delaware State Bar Association offers lawyer referral services to citizens by providing a directory of attorneys practicing in Delaware, including those specializing in personal injury law. This helps the public find lawyers who can represent them in their cases. DSBA members can also receive special discounts on continuing legal education and other legal products or services.
The Delaware State Courts' official website offers resources for individuals involved in legal matters, including personal injury cases. Website visitors can access forms, court rules, and legal information relevant to their claims. It also has an online feature where community members can ask specific legal questions to their law librarian.
The Delaware Department of Justice’s Consumer Protection Unit offers consumer protection resources, such as information on personal injury rights and how to file a complaint. It aims to safeguard the public from consumer fraud and scams by assisting in taking legal action against those that violate consumer protection laws.
Delaware CLASI provides legal services to vulnerable and underserved individuals in the state. The organization helps people with disabilities, older citizens, and individuals and families facing financial hardships, housing discrimination, and problems with immigration. Its members also aim to ensure equitable access to their services, regardless of race or ethnicity.
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