The U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania has ruled that the $900,000 limit and the amount of premiums paid for an underinsured motorist policy is irrelevant to a claim for benefits and breach of contract. As such, that evidence was excluded from trial.
In Lucca v. GEICO, plaintiff suffered injuries after he was involved in a car accident caused by the negligence of another driver.
At-fault driver had a $100,000 bodily injury policy. However, plaintiff alleged this was insufficient to cover all his damages. His car at the time was insured by defendant GEICO.
Plaintiff sought his own insurer’s consent to settle the claim claim with the other motorist for $75,000. He also sought UIM coverage from GEICO, but that claim was denied. The insurer asserted the $75,000 had been obtained in binding arbitration – not a settlement – and thus the other motorist wasn’t actually underinsured.
The insured man then filed a three-count complaint against his own insurer in which he alleged bad faith, violation of unfair trade practices and consumer protection and breach of contract. He sought compensatory damages, punitive damages and attorney fees.
Ultimately, the only claim to proceed was the breach of contract claim. After months of negotiation, both sides determined that the issue of liability won’t be contested. That is, the insurer agrees it has to pay underinsured motorist coverage. The only question, however, is how much.
That is fairly common in these cases, and as we mentioned earlier, insurance companies are going to do everything in their power to reduce the damage award they ultimately have to pay.
Insurer filed a motion seeking to exclude evidence of the $900,000 policy limit as well as the amount plaintiff and his stepfather paid for that policy. The insurer argued this information is irrelevant, or at the very least, unfairly prejudicial. Insurer argued that neither the policy limit or premium amount has anything to do with how serious plaintiff’s injuries were. Further, if the insurer were deemed liable, the court could then mold the damage award based on the available amount of coverage.
Citing Federal Rule 411, defendant argued this was very similar. That rule prohibits a plaintiff from presenting evidence showing whether an at-fault driver has insurance or indicating how much insurance that individual has. The reason is that jurors may be more inclined to issue a damage award – or a higher one – if they know the tab is going to be covered by an insurer, as opposed to an individual.
But case law on this issue is very slim. Plaintiff argued that the insurance policy information provides background information on the claim.
The trial court conceded the bar for relevance in a car accident lawsuit is low. However, the court ruled, the policy limit and premium amount does not even meet that threshold because these facts are not in dispute and therefore there is nothing for the jury to decide on that matter.
The trial court ruled that any mention of the policy limit or premiums isn’t relevant because that information doesn’t have a tendency to make any other fact more or less true.
Call Associates and Bruce L. Scheiner, Attorneys for the Injured, for a free and confidential consultation to discuss your rights. 1-888-579-8699.
Lucca v. GEICO, July 7, 2016, U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania
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