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Delaware Court reaffirms that wrongful death beneficiaries stand in UM beneficiaries shoes.

Kylie A. Shuba, et al. v. United Servs. Auto. Assoc.
No. 160, 2013 (Decided October 3, 2013)

by Gregory S. Emrick, Associate
Semmes, Bowen & Semmes (

The Plaintiffs, wrongful death beneficiaries, brought an action for Underinsured Motorist Benefits against the United Services Automobile Association, (“USAA”), which provided coverage to the Plaintiffs’ deceased stepmother. The case was dismissed based on the holdings of Temple v. Travelers Indemnity Co., 98C-08-088 WCC, 2000 WL 33113814 (Del. Super. Nov. 30, 2000) aff'd sub nom. Temple v. Traveler's Indem. Co., 782 A.2d 267 (Del. 2001), and Adams-Baez v. General Accident Co., C.A. 04C-02-219WCC, 2005 WL 2436220 (Del. Super. Sept. 30, 2005) (holding that “a wrongful death plaintiff … files a cause of action as if he stands in the shoes of the Decedent.”). The Plaintiffs appealed and requested that the Delaware Supreme Court overturn those decisions.

In July 2002, Linda Ann Banning died in a car accident when she was struck by another car owned by Daniel Gatto. Plaintiff Michael Shuba, the decedent’s son, was present in the vehicle and suffered minor injuries. The other Plaintiff, Kylie Shuba, was the decedent’s daughter but was not involved in the collision. In 2005, the Shubas and Gatto engaged in binding arbitration, which resulted in Michael Shuba receiving $791,000 for the wrongful death of his mother, and $7,000 for his own personal injuries. Kylie Shuba was awarded $648,000 for the wrongful death claim. The Shubas collected $100,000 from Gatto’s insurer, and another $300,000 from the Decedent’s Underinsured Motorist Carrier. The Shubas then sought coverage from USAA, which provided coverage to the Shuba’s stepmother, Gloria Shuba, in an amount of $300,000 per claimant and $500,000 per accident. It was uncontested that the decedent was not a named insured on the policy held by Gloria Shuba, and did not reside with her. After USAA denied the claim, the Shuba’s brought suit against USAA. The Superior Court granted USAA’s motion for summary judgment, applying the holdings of Temple/Adams-Baez. Plaintiffs appealed the decision.

In the Delaware Supreme Court, Plaintiffs argued that the decisions in Temple/Adams-Baez should be overturned, because their holdings ran contrary to the purpose of the mandatory Uninsured Motorist (“UM” or “UIM”) insurance law found in §3902(b), which was intended to “protect innocent persons from uninsured or judgment proof torfeasors.” The Shubas further argued that the statute did not require that an insured suffer injury, only that bodily injury occur. The Supreme Court rejected both arguments, holding that the Delaware UM statute “permits a claim for UIM benefits where an operator of an underinsured motor vehicle causes the claimant bodily injury.” (Emphasis in original) The statute requires that the insurer provide coverage for an injured insured, but does “not require UIM coverage for bodily injury or wrongful death of an individual who was not insured.” The Court further found that this interpretation was consistent with Delaware public policy in protecting the insured from underinsured motorists, and noted that reaching the conclusion requested by the Shubas would unfairly enlarge the risks covered by the insurance contract, which were not factored into the cost of the policy premium. The Court affirmed the dismissal of the trial Court.