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What is a Tort Case and What does it Involve in Delaware?

Any person who suffers a loss or injury because of the actions or conduct of another person has the legal right to receive compensation either by out-of-court settlement or litigation. Within the State of Delaware, this action is referred to as a tort claim. When this action is brought to the state courts, the Justice of the Peace Court, Court of Common Pleas, and Superior Court hear and resolve these claims. However, the amount sought in compensation and type of injury sustained determine which court has jurisdiction.

Records that are considered public may be accessible from some third-party websites. These websites often make searching simpler, as they are not limited by geographic location, and search engines on these sites may help when starting a search for specific or multiple records. To begin using such a search engine on a third-party or government website, interested parties usually must provide:

  • The name of the person involved in the record, unless said person is a juvenile
  • The location or assumed location of the record or person involved. This includes information such as the city, county, or state that person resides in or was accused in.

Third-party sites are independent from government sources, and are not sponsored by these government agencies. Because of this, record availability on third-party sites may vary.

What is Delaware Tort Law?

Delaware has different laws used to resolve injury claims. Under these laws, claims can be filed against individuals, businesses, or the government. Title 10 (Courts and Judicial Procedure) of the Delaware Code established legal and judicial procedures used to resolve tort cases. Whereas, Title 10, Chapter 40, Subchapter I guides filings against state agencies and employees while Title 10, Chapter 40, Subchapter II covers county and municipal tort claims, as well as the liability of such parties. The laws covering liability for injuries caused by negligent drivers and motor vehicle liability are Title 21, Chapter 61, and Chapter 29, respectively.

What Kinds of Cases are Covered by Tort Law in Delaware?

The tort law in Delaware covers a wide range of injury claims, including:

  • Toxic torts
  • Slip and fall
  • Medical malpractice
  • Legal malpractice
  • Nursing home abuse
  • Brain injury
  • Birth injury
  • Wrongful death
  • Premises liability
  • Work accidents
  • Car and travel-related wrecks/accidents
  • Defamation
  • Animal attacks/bites
  • Defective products

What are the Differences Between Criminal Law and Tort Law in Delaware?

In Delaware, distinct laws govern the litigation of criminal and tortious actions, as well as the rights of parties. A crime is an illegal offense for which perpetrators are liable to severe punishment such as fines, jail/prison sentences, probation, and more. On the other hand, a tort is an unlawful act carried out purposefully or unintentionally against another person and for which perpetrators are financially liable.

Typically, a case is a tort when a person (defendant) owed another (plaintiff) a duty of care and then negligently or intentionally breached that duty. As a result, the plaintiff suffered a real loss or injury. Meanwhile, a criminal case begins when any person commits an offense prohibited under the Delaware Criminal Code.

Just as with the law, criminal and tort cases have different court procedures and rules. While criminal prosecution follows the Rules of Criminal Procedure, the resolution of tort claims is directed by the Rules of Civil Procedure.

What is the Purpose of Tort Law in Delaware?

Through the tort law, individuals can request and obtain compensation for a tortious act such as trespassing, defamation, and others listed above. The law also shields the rights of litigants, establishes or limits the liability of parties, and serves as a deterrent for subsequent or frequent injurious acts.

What is a Tort Claim in Delaware?

Delaware statutes refer to a tort claim as a legal proceeding initiated by an individual who sustained an injury or accident. In tort claims, this individual is entitled to financial compensation from the at-fault party such as reimbursement because of a past or future loss. The court may also award damages for non-monetary damages such as pain, suffering, or anguish.

How Do You File a Tort Claim in Delaware?

Tort claims in Delaware can be filed in the Justice of the Peace Courts, Court of Common Pleas, and Superior Courts. Nevertheless, certain actions must be filed in a specific court. An example of such a case is a health care malpractice claim which is exclusively handled by the Superior Court (10 Del.C. § 566)..

Each court has distinct filing procedures and fees. However, the basics are generally the same: an injured party must file a complaint, praecipe (sample from the Superior Court), and summons with the Clerk of Court to initiate a tort lawsuit. A claimant must also pay the required filing and service fee.

The civil forms can be found on the Forms page of the Delaware Courts and filed in-person, by mail, or using the Delaware eFlex platform to file electronically. Though eFlex can be used by anyone, it is mandatory in certain cases to use the platform. For instance, a plaintiff represented by an attorney is required to use eFlex to make a filing. Also, plaintiffs are advised to make copies of all submitted forms, for example, a minimum of 3 copies of the complaint form: one for the plaintiff’s records and the other, along with the original, filed with the court.

Usually, a claim must be filed in the county where the injury occurred or the defendant resides, and within statutory limits. Per 10 Del.C. § 8106, personal injury claims must be filed within 3 years of the inciting event, except for wrongful death and personal property damage actions which must be brought within 2 years (10 Del.C. § 8107).. The specific filing procedures for each court are viewable on the Court Proceedings page.

What Does a Tort Claim Contain in Delaware?

A civil complaint form contains the information below:

  • Names, residences, and contact information of the plaintiff and defendant
  • The name, address, and phone number of the plaintiff’s or defendant’s attorney (if any)
  • The name and county of the filing court
  • The civil action number (case number)
  • The type of action
  • Statement of complaint (a concise explanation of the circumstances/background of an injury including dates, times, locations, persons involved, damages sought, and any other relevant information)
  • The date when the claim was filed
  • The plaintiff’s signature

What Happens after a Tort Claim is Filed in Delaware?

When a plaintiff files a tort claim in a Delaware Court, the next procedure is to serve the defendant with a copy of the summons and complaint. The reason for this is to inform the defendant of the lawsuit. Sued parties have a limited number of days, indicated on the summons, to respond to this service once it is received. Typically, this period is 20 days for the Court of Common Pleas and Superior Courts and 15 days for the Justice of the Peace Courts. Also stated in the summons is the court’s name, the plaintiff’s and defendant’s names, and a statement that a default judgment will be entered against the recipient if there is no answer filed within that time limit.

After the service and answer processes are concluded, the case proceeds to the discovery and pre-trial stages. Here, litigants request, obtain, and exchange evidence and witness information with each other. Parties may also file motions to request orders or actions from the court such as a change of venue. After the discovery phase, a case may proceed to trial if settlement by mediation or arbitration is not possible. More information on the litigation process for tort cases can be found on the Delaware judiciary’s website.

Why Do I Need a Personal Injury Lawyer for a Tort Claim?

In the Delaware Courts, claimants may proceed with personal injury lawsuits against at-fault parties without the assistance of a lawyer, also known as a pro se litigation. Usually, parties who self-represent are those who filed claims for minor injuries. However, when seeking to secure maximum compensation for a considerable injury or accident, and external negotiation is not feasible, it is advisable to obtain or retain legal representation. Not only because of this purpose, but also for guidance through the legal process, explaining laws and rights applicable to a case, negotiating a fair injury settlement, investigating an injury, documenting evidence, and interfacing with other parties (defendants or their attorneys, insurance companies, medical providers, etc.).

How Can I Find a Personal Injury Lawyer Near Me?

The Online Lawyer Referral Service (OLRS) is useful in finding personal injury lawyers licensed to practice law within the state. This internet service is operated by the Delaware State Bar Association (DSBA). Members of the public may select the “accidents and injuries” tab to obtain legal consultation for up to 30 minutes at a $35 fee. After which, the person may choose to hire the referred attorney, if comfortable with the attorney’s expertise or able to agree on further legal costs and fees.

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