You Can’t Tell A Jury That!
It is typical to hear people complain about the civil justice system in the United States. These complains vary from inaccessibility to cost, and everything in between. However, no system is perfect and when compared to the alternatives the US civil justice system is the best and most fair there is. In fact, in most countries if you are attacked by someone’s dog, hit by a drunk driver, or fall through faulty construction, you are left to fend for yourself with no help from any insurance compensation.
While our justice system is, by far, one of the best in the World, it is not without imperfections. One of which, is not being able to mention whether the defendant has liability insurance when presenting a personal injury case to a jury. In fact, it is completely prohibited by law to reveal to a jury the existence or extent of liability coverage available to cover the defendant’s negligent conduct.
For instance, say you are in a car accident and the other driver is at fault and admits his responsibility. After receiving medical treatment for several months, you are well and you are ready to settle your claim. You contact the insurance company to discuss a settlement. After playing their games, enduring their stalling and just being difficult, they make you an offer that you deem unreasonable. By now, you are very frustrated; in fact, you are downright angry. You call the at-fault driver to complain, but he tells you there is nothing he can do about it since the insurance company makes these decisions exclusively.
You decide to hire an attorney. The attorney reviews your claim and agrees the offer the insurance company is making is unreasonable. Your attorney files a law suit against the at-fault driver. His insurance company hires an attorney to defend him and the litigation process commences. After many months of litigation your day in court arrives.
When you show up at trial you notice the other driver is dressed nicely and well groomed. He appears very presentable and most amiable. Soon his attorney stands up before the jury and tells them how regrettable this whole situation is and that his client wants nothing more than to see justice prevail. The other attorney also implies you are not interested in justice and view this as an opportunity to break the bank; you hit your jackpot.
Before you know it, the bad driver is being painted as the victim of your greed. To make matters worse, the other attorney informs the jury his client is married and the father of three young children. That he works 50 hours per week to provide for his family.
Of course, your attorney will do everything possible to remind the jury that you are the victim of the car crash. You suffered serious physical and emotional injuries for months. You required medical treatment. Your enjoyment of life was compromised. All because the other driver wasn’t paying attention. Your attorney will assure the jury you are not out for blood, not looking for a jackpot or to break the bank. You want, and deserve to be reasonably compensated for your injuries.
What your lawyer can’t tell the jury is that the bad driver has car insurance. That the bad driver will not have to pay out of his own pocket for what the jury awards you. That even his attorney is paid for by the insurance company. Your attorney will also not be allowed to share with the jury the countless of times you attempted to resolve this claim with the other insurance company. The games, delays, maneuvering, and threats they exercised while you were trying to heal. Your attorney is not even allowed to mention the word “insurance”. It doesn’t end with your attorney. You, the judge, the witnesses, and everyone else at your trial will be prohibited from revealing to the jury the existence of insurance or the behind the scene control they exert over your claim.
This may not seem fair or appropriate. In fact, it is an evidentiary rule often debated by attorneys and scholars. Nonetheless, it is the current rule of law and we must abide by it.