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What’s the No. 1 thing attorneys can’t tell the jury in car accident trials?

July 20, 2011 by Steven M. Gursten

Accident attorney discusses the unintended harms that result from not telling juries about the existence of insurance in auto accident lawsuits

In my years trying car accident and truck accident injury cases, I’ve learned that there are many misconceptions that jurors have about our judicial system. Chief among these is that many people incorrectly believe they can file a lawsuit directly against the insurance company of the person who causes a car accident and injures them when they are unable to agree on a fair settlement.

But in Michigan, our law requires that the individual driver, NOT his or her auto insurance company, be named in any car accident lawsuit.

Why? The Michigan Rules of Evidence do not allow an accident attorney to tell the jury about insurance coverage. For this reason, you won’t hear any mention of insurance in almost all auto accident trials that involve personal injury.

The reality: It’s the insurance company that pays everything and makes all the decisions. The insurance company that you aren’t supposed to know about hires and pays the lawyer who is defending the lawsuit in court. In fact, that lawyer is likely an insurance defense lawyer who works as house counsel for the insurance company involved. The automobile insurance company — not the individual who causes the crash — will also pay any settlement or trial verdict if that auto accident case goes to a jury verdict.

This rule that lawyers cannot tell jurors about the existence of insurance causes unintended harms. One example is insurance companies that use this rule (that was designed as a shield to make sure jurors treated insurance companies fairly), instead use it as a sword to unfairly reduce the amount they have to pay, see my blog: Dirtiest insurance company truck of all.

Also, despite the stereotypes – often created by PR and propaganda experts who work for insurance companies and that are behind much of the “tort reform” movement in America – I have found that almost no one really wants to go to trial. Often, it’s the insurance company that forces people to go to trial by refusing to accept responsibility or playing games, such as offering ridiculously low settlement offers and hoping people will collapse under the pressure and strain of trial and accept a low-ball settlement offer.

Read what Zurich Insurance did to a client of mine last year who had significant depression and a traumatic brain injury: Zurich Insurance forces case to trial.

The consequences: When a jury is led to believe there is no auto insurance company involved

So we have the situation where although the insurance company can never be named as a party to the lawsuit, that same insurance company is pulling all the strings and making all the decisions. This applies to any auto accident or truck injury case. Because of this law, sometimes there are absurd consequences — beyond deliberately misleading the jury that there is no auto insurance company involved.

For example, even if the policy holder who causes a car accident is a relative or close family friend of the person who is injured, that policy holder must still be named in the lawsuit to force their insurance company to pay the claim. The insurance company still defends the case and pays any verdict that is within the insurance policy limits.

But juries often are led to believe defense lawyers, who usually act as if the at-fault driver would be the one footing the bill for the verdict. This in turn misleads some juries to often award less pain and suffering compensation to the seriously injured auto accident victim for serious injuries.

Now you know about liability insurance and the law.

Next week, I’ll discuss how all of this ties in with the recent HBO documentary “Hot Coffee,” which covers what’s really behind “tort reform” and “frivolous” lawsuits.

Steve Gursten is one of the nation’s top accident attorneys. He is head of Michigan Auto Law and has received the highest verdict or pain and suffering settlement in the state for a car accident or truck accident victim in 2008, 2009 and 2010, according to Michigan Lawyers Weekly.

Related Information:

FAQs – Filing an auto accident lawsuit in Michigan

17 mistakes that can ruin your car accident lawsuit

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 one of our accident attorneys.

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