A common question juries may have in car accident lawsuits is, “How much insurance coverage is there?”
However, under current rules of civil procedure, injury victims, at-fault drivers, witnesses and lawyers are not allowed to discuss the issue of insurance. The only way such information may be allowed is if it has some direct bearing on the cause of the accident or the extent of one’s injuries – which usually, it does not.
Improper mention of insurance at trial can result in a mistrial or reversal of a verdict and order of a new trial.
According to court records, plaintiff was injured in a pedestrian accident. While he was crossing the street, he was struck by a dump truck and suffered serious injuries, including head trauma and rib fractures.
Plaintiff subsequently filed a personal injury lawsuit against the driver, the company that owned the truck and the company that had contracted with the truck company to do the construction work. But as it was later revealed, the issue of employment and insurance was more complicated than it appeared on the surface.
The general contractor had hired the truck company. The truck company was owned by the driver. However, as it turned out, the driver had no license and the company was not properly licensed and the truck had no insurance. This raised the question of whether defendant driver was in fact an employee of the general contractor, as opposed to an independent contractor himself.
Based on this, plaintiff asserted a claim of negligent hiring against the general contractor.
Prior to trial, general contractor filed motion for summary judgment, arguing it was not the driver’s employer and therefore was not negligent in hiring the driver and that even if it had known the driver had no license or insurance, it wasn’t the cause of the accident. Trial court denied that motion, which was followed by a motion in limine to exclude any mention that driver was not licensed or insured. The basis for this argument was that Maryland law generally doesn’t allow evidence of insurance to be admitted in trial unless it is identified as a proximate cause of the accident or negligence.
However, the circuit court allowed into evidence witness testimony regarding the driver’s lack of insurance coverage at the time of the accident. The reasoning had to do with establishment of the employer-employee relationship.
Jurors ultimately decided the case in plaintiff’s favor, awarding $500,000 for pain and suffering and $30,000 for pain and suffering, physical impairment and diminished quality of life.
The general contractor appealed this judgment, arguing that information regarding the insurance policy was inadmissible and improperly prejudiced the jury against them.
When the court of appeals weighed the case, the question was whether evidence that there was a lack of insurance by the driver likely influenced the jury regarding the general contractor’s liability for the pedestrian’s injuries.
The court decided that here, lack of insurance coverage was inadmissible and irrelevant in a negligent hiring claim because it did not establish the proximate cause of negligence or injuries. On this basis, the court reversed the verdict and ordered a new trial.
If you have been a victim of a traffic accident, call Chalik & Chalik at (954) 476-1000 or 1 (800) 873-9040.
Perry v. Asphalt & Concrete Servs. Inc., March 28, 2016, Maryland Court of Appeals
More Blog Entries:
Florida’s Dram Shop Law and the Undertaker’s Doctrine, April 4, 2016, Miami Pedestrian Accident Lawyer Blog