Insurance Company Secrets

Secrets Insurance Companies Keep From Juries

What Insurance Companies Don’t Want You To Know, by Cory A. Baird, Esq.

In personal injury cases, the Courts often keep jurors in the dark about certain aspects of the case that would affect the jurors’ decisions. Most of these rules benefit insurance companies. It is absolutely important that you hire a knowledgeable attorney who not only knows these tactics, but knows which ones can be circumvented for the purposes of getting as much of your case in front of the jury as possible.

Why didn’t the plaintiff sue the defendant’s insurance company rather than the person who caused the claim? And why isn’t the jury allowed to know if the defendant is insured and if so, how much?

There is a long-standing rule in Florida that forbids a Plaintiff from telling a jury about the Defendant’s insurance coverage in personal injury trials. Carl’s Markets, Inc. v. Meyer, 69 So.2d 789, 793 (Fla.1953).

I respectfully disagree with this rule and think it is improper and unfair. I believe that jurors are more than able to use this information responsibly and that keeping it from them is intentional and misleading.

The effect of this rule is that a person who is making a claim against someone else’s insurance (Plaintiff) cannot sue the insurance company, but must instead sue the person who caused the claim (Defendant).

At trial, the Plaintiff and their personal injury attorney are forbidden, not only from telling the jury how much insurance the defendant has, but may not even talk about whether the Defendant has any insurance at all.

I have never gone to trial against a Defendant that did not have insurance. This has been my practice for many reasons and I feel that when I do go to trial, the jury should at least know that the Defendant is, in fact, insured.

In each insurance claim made, the injured person’s disagreement in the amount of the harm suffered (and the value thereof) is with the Defendant’s insurance company, not the insured. Yet the Plaintiff has to name the at-fault party by name in the law suit – “Mrs. Plaintiff v. Mr. Defendant.”

I constantly see examples where I suspect that a Defendant would have preferred that the insurance company pay the amount requested by the Plaintiff, but instead he or she is forced into trial by their own insurance company. It is my understanding that most insurance companies don’t even tell their insured how much the Plaintiff has requested, for this very reason.

The problem with the practice of this rule is that it gives insurance companies another reason to fight injured people and rely on sympathy for their insured in order to ask for artificially lower verdicts (and settlements) and force people to trial when they should not be doing so.

In reality, all juries in personal injury cases should know that a Defendant is insured and should know at what point their verdict exceeds the Defendant’s policy limits.

So, did the defendant get a ticket or not?

The law, as currently written, does not allow the jury to hear about whether the Defendant was given a ticket (citation) for causing a crash, nor do they allow statements made to the responding officer into evidence either.

This position is supported in Florida where, even if a Defendant pleads nolo (no contest), the ticket will never be known to the jury. The only time when a Defendant’s ticket actually gets introduced into evidence is when the Defendant actually pleads guilty or is found guilty of the infraction. Statements made to police officers by parties to an action are almost never allowed into evidence.

Has this defendant hurt people before?

If the Defendant has injured others in previous accidents, the jury will probably never hear about it. In the past decade as a practicing personal injury attorney in Florida, I have sued countless negligent drivers who have actually hurt people before in collisions. The Courts in Florida do not allow me to discuss this with the jury. Often times, a seemingly pleasant Defendant has a long history of speeding and carelessness that the jury will never know about and which would, inevitable, sway the jury’s opinion regarding the Defendant.

On the contrary, if a Plaintiff in a personal injury suit has ever been in a crash, that often becomes the insurance company attorney’s theme at trial. The idea behind this tactic is to diminish the impact of the accident in question on the Plaintiff.

Why doesn’t the plaintiff bring more witnesses?

Before every trial, Plaintiffs’ attorneys in Florida have a conversation with their clients about which witnesses to bring to trial. We are allowed to bring a witness or two who knew the Plaintiff both before and after the crash and who can speak to the jury about the harms and losses they have witnessed.

In every trial I have ever been in, the insurance companies’ attorneys have asked the court to limit the number of before and after witnesses to one or two, claiming that the additional testimony is duplicative and slows the process down.

In fact, this is no less than an defense tactic which make trials harder on Plaintiffs.

Why don’t all of the plaintiff’s doctors come in and testify?

Within the Florida Court system, we personal injury attorneys are rarely ever told what day a trial will begin until the day of, which makes scheduling doctors, and other experts, nearly impossible. This problem is eased on insurance companies’ defense attorneys who put on their case second, giving them a few days warning to line up doctors and experts.

As a practical matter, although a person’s treating physicians almost always agree with their patients (that they are hurt and that an accident caused the injury), they are trained to be doctors and not witnesses, and do not appreciate leaving their practice to come to a courthouse ever, for any reason. They often vehemently request not to be pulled out of their busy practice to come to trial, no matter how strongly they may feel about a person’s case.

Why don’t witnesses talk about how honest the plaintiff is?

Insurance companies do not like a jury hearing about how honest a Plaintiff is because it hurts their case. They argue that it is improper bolstering of character. Insurance companies’ defense attorneys argue that whether a Plaintiff is a good person or not is irrelevant as to whether a Defendant caused a crash or whether the Plaintiff is injured. Obviously, a person’s moral character speaks volumes to the likeliness of the validity of their pain and suffering, but the insurance companies don’t want the jury to know about that.

Can someone really get hurt when there is very little damage to the car?

Absolutely. Claiming that a person could not have been permanently injured just because there is not a lot of damage to the cars involved is a completely false statement made by insurance companies and their attorneys. Study after study has proven this wrong.

This argument is an old myth that people are now becoming aware of, as more and more people each year are injured with little damage to the car. At this point, many people in Florida actually know someone who was in a small fender bender but who just hasn’t been the same since. Sometimes those people have made insurance claims but they often do not.

It is a statistical fact that there is simply almost no relationship between damage to the car and injuries to people inside. Experts agree that the best way to explain this phenomenon is that when a car does not crumple upon impact, very little of the shock gets absorbed by the body of the car. Instead, the force of the impact is transferred into the occupant’s body, causing a person’s head to whip backward, and/or forward, causing injuries to the neck. Often times, when a car crumples, there is actually less whiplash to the people inside the vehicle.

Of course, insurance companies want people to believe that this is not the case. They often repeat over and over how little damage was done to a car, and rely on that to win at trial.

Importantly, studies performed with real cars and actual people inside the cars mirror the statistics of what happens to the public; that the permanent injuries do in fact occur with very minor damage to the cars, even when the only repair needed was repainting the bumpers.

What is a letter of protection (LOP), and does that mean that the doctor is pulling a fast one?

LOP stands for Letter of Protection, and they are actually very common for people who do not have health insurance or money to pay out of pocket for medical treatment expenses.

When a person who has no health insurance and not enough money to pay for medical treatment seeks medical help, the doctor is left with two options:

1. Don’t help that person and send them away because the doctor will never be paid for his services; or

2. Treat the person, but withhold collections until the end of the case with the person’s promise that the doctor will be paid out of a future settlement.

Insurance companies and their defense attorneys do not like this because they would far prefer that a person has no treatment at all, keeping bills down and making it impossible for a claimant to find out the full extent of their injuries.

The insurance companies’ attorneys tell the jury that these LOPs mean that the doctor cannot be trusted. This could not be farther from the truth. The doctors that truly care for their patients and want to help them will offer this valuable service to their patients. It sometimes means that the doctor may never be paid (if there is no settlement) and that, if they do get paid, it will not be for months, sometimes years.

Importantly, the doctors who offer to treat a patient under an LOP are not waiving their fee. The injured person still has an obligation to pay the fee regardless of the outcome of the case. Despite this, insurance attorneys still ask juries to cut the amount they will allow for the doctor’s fees in their verdict, knowing full well that the Plaintiff still has to pay the full amount regardless of what the jury says.

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