A statement of an offer to settle or compromise a claim does not constitute an admission because it does not imply a specific belief that the adversary’s claim is well-founded. Instead, it reflects a belief that the further prosecution of the claim, whether well-founded or not, would in any event cause such expense and annoyance as is preferably avoided by payment of the sum offered.118 Evidence of a settlement is inadmissible to prove liability for or invalidity of the claim or its amount.119 Two principles underlie this rule: (1) the evidence of compromise is irrelevant since the offer may be motivated by a desire to terminate the litigation rather than from any concession of weakness of position; and (2) public policy favors compromise in settlement disputes.120
This does not apply to evidence other than the offer that was presented in the course of compromise negotiations, nor does it exclude such evidence if offered for another purpose, such as proving bias, negativing a contention of undue delay or proving an effort to obstruct a criminal investigation or prosecution.121
This rule does not apply to statements made by a criminal defendant to the police where there were no plea negotiations or any reasonable expectation of negotiating a plea.122
118. D.R.E. 408; Cole v. State, 922 A.2d 364, 370-71 (Del. 2007) (statements made during plea negotiations not admissible); In re Hilton Hotels Corp., 210 A.2d 185, 189 (Del. Ch. 1965), aff’d sub nom. Carl M. Loeb, Rhoades & Co. v. Hilton Hotels Corp., 222 A.2d 789 (Del. 1966). See also State ex rd. Secretary of Dept. of Highways & Transp. v. Delmarva Power & Light Co., 339 A.2d 68, 70 (Del. Super. 1975) (offer to pay full market value in an eminent domain proceeding was not an offer to compromise and so constituted an admission).
119. Atwell v. RHIS, Inc., 974 A.2d 148, 151-52 (Del. 2009); Wright v. Moore, 931 A.2d 405, 407 (Del. 2007).
120. Atwell v. RHIS, Inc., 974 A.2d 148, 151-52 (Del. 2009); Sammons v. Doctors for Emergency Services, P.A., 913 A.2d 519, 532 (Del. 2006); Alexander v. Cahill, 829 A.2d 117, 123 (Del. 2003); Capital Management Co. v. Brown, 813 A.2d 1094, 1100 (Del. 2002).
121. D.R.E. 408.
122. Banther v. State, 823 A.2d 467, 486 (Del. 2003).
© 2010 David L. Finger