Delaware Motor Vehicle Accident Laws and Safety Requirements

Over 20,000 traffic accidents occur in Delaware every year, according to the Delaware Department of Transportation. Any lawsuit arising from a Delaware traffic accident will be governed by the following legal principles:

Statute of Limitations: You have two years from the date of the accident to file a lawsuit in a Delaware court for personal injury or property damage. If you miss the deadline you won’t even be able to negotiate an out-of-court settlement.

Shared Liability: If the plaintiff filing the lawsuit shares fault for the injury or property damage, Delaware applies a “modified comparative fault” standard, under which the court deducts an amount from the plaintiff’s damages that is proportionate to the plaintiff’s percentage of fault (35 percent, for example). If the plaintiff is more than 50 percent at fault, he will recover nothing.

Fault/No Fault Rule: Since Delaware is not a “no fault” insurance state, you may file a lawsuit or a claim with the other driver’s liability insurance company if you believe the other driver was at fault.

Minimum Insurance Coverage: Delaware requires its drivers to carry “15/30/10” auto liability insurance – it must cover at least $15,000 per victim, $30,000 per accident, and $10,000 for property damage.

Uninsured/Underinsured Drivers Coverage: Delaware does not require its motorists to carry uninsured/underinsured motorist insurance. Although such insurance is available.

Types of Damages Available: Full compensatory damages are available, including recovery for intangible losses such as pain and suffering and mental anguish. Punitive damages may be available for deplorable and deliberate conduct on the part of the defendant, but these damages are capped at ten times the amount of compensatory damages.

Product Liability for Defective Vehicles: Litigation is possible based on strict product liability, negligence, warranty, etc., depending on the facts of each case. Strict product liability does not necessarily require a showing of fault on the part of the defendant.

Suing the Government over Defective Roadways (Sovereign Immunity): The principle of sovereign immunity renders it almost impossible to sue the state of Delaware for defective roadways.

Motorcycle Helmet Laws: Riders under 19 are required to wear a helmet. Although older riders are not required to wear a helmet, failure to wear one could be relevant in a civil lawsuit.

Seat Belt Laws: Occupants under 17 are required to wear seat belts. The maximum first-offense fine is $25.

Dram Shop Laws: Delaware has no dram shop law – alcohol vendors or social hosts who serve alcohol are not liable for injuries caused by their guests.

DUI/DWI Laws: The legal BAC limit is .08% (.02% fir drivers under 21), and enhanced penalties apply to drivers with BACs of .15% or higher. A first offense can lead to jail time of up to six months, a fine of between $500 and $1,150, and a one- to two-year driver’s license suspension.

Distracted Driving (texting while driving, etc.): Delaware completely bans texting while driving as well as the use of hand-held electronic devices while driving. Delaware also bans all cell phone use for school bus drivers and drivers on Learners or Intermediate driver’s licenses.