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A Better Way To Try A Car Accident Case: Tell the Jury About Insurance

January 26, 2010 by Steven M. Gursten

A reader recently wrote in after reading my blog on the Dirtiest Insurance Company Trick of All. “Phil” stated that in the very serious car accident case I had written about, Farm Bureau Insurance company had every right to deliberately mislead the jury (I assume Phil is not a claims adjuster who works for Farm Bureau).

Actually, I really appreciate Phil’s comments and I am sure there are many people feel the same way as he does. That’s why I decided to re-post his comment and my response as today’s blog.

In the Farm Bureau case, a teenager caused a very serious car accident — yet Farm Bureau Insurance refused to make any meaningful attempts to settle, and literally forced this case to trial. Farm Bureau made very low-ball offers to settle far below what the case was worth, saying that a jury would be swayed by the appearance of this young, apparently penniless teenager. And since juries cannot be informed about the existence of insurance, Farm Bureau and the defense lawyers assumed the jury would return a low jury verdict. Meanwhile, the actual insurance policy covering the teenage driver was large, and paid for by the girl’s father (Read here for information on why you should avoid Farm Bureau auto insurance).

Here’s what Phil wrote:

I have to disagree with your assessment of this case, at least as it’s recounted, in a couple of ways. First, the “real” defendant in this case was, most certainly, the teenage girl. Individuals bear their own responsibilities. Individuals enlist the services of insurance companies to cover losses for which they become legally responsible.

Second, I don’t see how this law was misused. I support regulations like this. Juries should never take the depth of a defendant’s or, for that matter, a plaintiff’s pockets into consideration when determining judgments or judgment awards. It seems that we’ve all forgotten that when an insurance company is involved, it’s not just a faceless corporation, it’s every individual policy holder, that’s at risk.

This is my response to Phil’s opinion:

I certainly appreciate your comments, and I thank you for e-mailing them to me. I also certainly understand where you are coming from and there will be many who agree with you. I do respectfully wonder, however, if you would feel the same way if the insurance company had pulled the same trick on you if you had been catastrophically injured, or if this had happened to someone you love.

The idea of an insurance company deliberately parading a penniless teenage girl in front of a jury every day to engage in a charade that she will be personally ruined by a verdict (especially when there is very large insurance policy) and to improperly encourage people sitting on a jury to feel sorry for her seems wrong to many, including myself. It also deprives the truly innocent person of his full opportunity for a just verdict that is meant to protect them for all of their hams and losses.

There is however, another way. There is a new idea out there. The principle is that juries and the people who sit on them are sophisticated enough to be told there is insurance involved. These people can then be trusted to not lose all self-control and still be able to render a fair and just verdict based upon the evidence. They as a jury are then instructed not to consider the existence of insurance when reaching a verdict.

This is the idea behind a growing trend in some progressive jurisdictions across America. It started several years ago in Alaska. The idea behind this is that it allows juries to then focus on their real job – to determine the appropriate amount of compensation without worrying or improperly being urged to speculate about whether there is or is not insurance, or about the ability of a defendant to pay. I certainly think it’s an idea that has considerable merit, and is more fair to both plaintiffs and defendants than the current way we do things in Michigan.

As a personal injury attorney handling auto accidents, I have seen too many innocent people whose lives have been destroyed by people who feel as Phil does. On the other hand, I’ve also seen defendants and insurance companies get burned by using this tactic. For example, in the case mentioned above, the plaintiff, who sustained a traumatic brain injury among many other serious injuries and who received a paltry settlement offer of $100,000, was rendered a verdict of more than $2 million.

I’d like to thank Phil for his comment, and while I may disagree with him, I appreciate the opportunity for intelligent dialogue on a subject that I feel is very important.

Steven M. Gursten is recognized as one of the nation’s top attorneys handling serious car and truck accident injury cases and automobile insurance no-fault litigation. Michigan Auto Law has received the largest reported jury verdict for an automobile accident case in Michigan in seven of the past 10 years, including 2009, according to published year-end verdicts and settlements reports.

– Photo courtesy of Creative Commons, by Ken Lund

Related information:

Dealing with Your Insurance Company

Your No-Fault Rights in Michigan

Top 10 Worst Insurance Companies in Michigan

Michigan Auto Law is the largest law firm exclusively handling car accident, truck accident and motorcycle accident cases throughout the entire state. We have offices in Farmington Hills, Detroit, Ann Arbor, Grand Rapids and Sterling Heights to better serve you. Call (800) 777-0028 for a free consultation with an auto accident attorney. We are always here to help.

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