urors are the center of the civil justice system. It is the jury—made up of ordinary people—that will decide who wins or loses any jury trial. They will decide whether, and how much, to believe a witness’s testimony. They will decide how much to award the plaintiff, if she wins her case.
And yet, we do not tell the jury everything. We downright hide some pretty important information.
The jurors will never learn whether the defendant is covered by insurance for the plaintiff’s losses. The jurors will never know how much insurance coverage a defendant has. The attorneys are prohibited from even mentioning whether a party is insured!
In fact, it may not be the defendant who has a stake in the trial at all. In many cases, it is the defendants’ insurance company who is defending the case—from hiring (and paying for) the defendant’s lawyer, to deciding whether or not to settle. Often what insurance company a defendant has coverage through matters more to how the case proceeds than whether the defendant believes he did anything wrong.
But the jurors never know that. For all they know, the nice older lady who blew through a stop sign and almost killed the plaintiff would be destitute if the jurors fairly compensate the plaintiff for the harms and losses.
So why do we hide this from the jury? Won’t jurors wonder, “if I compensate the plaintiff for all their harms and losses, I might be putting this person in the poor house”?
The idea is an old one: if jurors see insurance coverage, they might just give more because it is not really anyone’s money—it is the insurance company, and who cares about them? I might worry about that if I were an insurance company, too.
So we tell jurors not to consider that. Good luck.
The flip side is that those same insurance companies can sit in the back of the courtroom, out of the line of sight of the jury, and parade around a sympathetic defendant. They can cash in on the same sympathy, even though the defendant might be at no risk whatsoever.
Wouldn’t the instruction work the same for them?
This is not just an issue in injury cases, either. Whatever type of lawsuit, you cannot introduce evidence of coverage for the parties.
What do you think? Which side is more fair—or is there a better, middle ground? Maybe disclose that there is insurance, and whether the plaintiff will seek over that coverage, without revealing the amount? Let me know in the comments!