Can Insurance Defendants Lay Low at Trial?
Note: a special welcome to Point of Law readers. I disagree with many of the philosophical views presented at Point of Law and Overlawyered. Then why do I read both of these blogs every day? Because they are informative, well presented posts that make me occasionally question my own views. I hope to have you as a reader of the Maryland Injury Lawyer Blog and I hope my blog does for you what Point of Law and Overlawyered does for me.
Insurance companies hate being named in an uninsured motorist case. Why? Because unlike most car accident trials, if the jury knows an insurance company is paying the damages, jurors become less concerned that the defendant is footing the bill themselves. Jurors intuitively expect there is insurance available to cover the verdict but they are never quite sure. On several occasions, I have had jurors ask me after trial if the defendant has to pay the verdict. “That nice Mr. Smith does not have to pay this personally, does he?”
In Maryland, the law is clear that in a straight uninsured motorist case without the tort defendant participating in the trial, the insurance company may be named. The definitive case on this is King v. State Farm. In that case, a pedestrian Plaintiff appealed an unsatisfactory jury verdict in Baltimore City in an underinsured motorist case where the tort defendant had offered their policy limits (the verdict was less than the underlying policy). The Maryland Court of Special Appeals reversed because the trial judge did not allow the Plaintiff to identify the fact that the defendant was an insurance company.
Related UM Information
The unknown issue in Maryland is whether the underinsurance carrier can be named if the defendant driver who caused the accident remains as a defendant in an an uninsured or underinsured motorist case. I think the answer to the question is pretty obvious because the exact same logic and rationale largely applies.
One of our accident lawyers, however, recently lost this argument on a case that went to verdict. The judge bought the argument that mentioning the underinsurance carrier might lead the jury to think that there must be a lot of insurance which might lead them to award more than they should. Is this possible? Sure. But it seems equally possible the jury would feel sorry for the defendant with so little insurance. Besides, what separates an insurance company from any other large defendant who the jury also knows has a lot of money?
My opinion: when you balance this uncertainty against the insanity of having lawyers representing unidentified parties, it seems like a pretty easy call. It seems to me that the legal system artificially keeps enough from jurors as it is.