If you’ve ever served on jury duty in a civil case where somebody got hurt, you probably walked away asking yourself why you didn’t hear evidence on certain matters that you expected to hear about. For example, in a car wreck case, you weren’t able to hear about who the officer found to be at fault, who got the ticket, and the name of the insurance company for the at-fault driver. This is because we have Rules of Evidence that prohibit evidence about these matters from being introduced at trial.
Many attorneys believe that these Rules of Evidence are somewhat antiquated and that all available evidence should be given to the jury to assist it in making the right decision. I’ve participated in cases in the past where the jury would even send a note to the Judge asking whether an individual or his or her insurance company had to pay the amount assessed. It would sure make a fairer system if juries could be told about liability insurance but insurance companies have successfully prevented the introduction of such evidence throughout the history of the civil justice system in Arkansas.
We all know that we have to have liability insurance to drive. And virtually no lawyer is going to take a case to trial against a driver who has no liability insurance but juries are left wondering whether a driver has liability insurance or not. After all, it’s hard for anybody to assess a judgment against someone who appears to be struggling to make ends meet. Then why doesn’t our system allow juries to be told that the real payer of the judgment is a multi-billion dollar insurance company? It’s because the information is not considered to be “relevant.”
As an attorney who has practiced law for more than a quarter of a century, it is absurd to think that evidence of insurance is not “relevant” or because the prejudicial effect from such evidence is deemed to greatly outweigh its probative value. Because the lack of information presented to the jury about insurance frequently causes juries to award less than the true compensation or damages or someone who may be badly injured, how could a court possibly believe it was appropriate to exclude the evidence. I’ve even heard a Judge in a nearby state that I greatly respect refer to the exclusion of information about insurance as being “antiquated.” I concur in that assessment.
So, why shouldn’t juries be told the truth? The only answer is that big insurance companies don’t want juries to know the truth. So the next time you know someone who has served on jury duty who tells you that they didn’t get to hear any evidence about insurance, tell them that the reason they didn’t hear it is because insurance companies have prevented juries from being told the truth.
(c) 2014 by Chip Sexton.