You may have wondered why in injury litigation, we refrain from naming the insurer in the initial action. This is why, for example, you will see spouses suing each other for crash-related injuries, rather than suing the insurance company – even if that’s ultimately the goal.
The reason has to do with the fact that courts have found that the presence or lack of an insurance policy can be prejudicial in a civil case. The thinking is that if a jury is aware that a defendant has ample insurance, they may be more likely to award much higher damages to the victim than they would if they knew the defendant has no insurance and would be personally liable to pay damages.
The courts take this matter extremely serious, which is why the Court of of Appeals of Maryland (the highest court in that state) recently affirmed a reversal of a truck injury verdict and remanded the case for a new trial for a violation of this standard. The court noted that lack of insurance coverage is irrelevant and inadmissible in a lawsuit alleging negligent hiring where the evidence doesn’t establish the proximate cause of plaintiff’s injuries.
According to court records in Perry v. Asphalt & Concrete Servs., Inc., plaintiff was crossing an intersection in the city of Frederick, MD when he was struck by a large dump truck. As a result of that truck accident, plaintiff sustained head trauma and rib fractures.
At the time of the accident, defendant, an asphalt company, had hired the owner of the truck (and the employer of the driver) to haul stone and asphalt to a local Catholic church, which defendant was paving for a children’s play area.
An investigation by local police revealed that neither the driver nor the contractor had liability insurance that covered the truck because there had been a lapse in payment.
Plaintiff filed his initial complaint against the contractor, the driver and the asphalt company. He further alleged that the asphalt company was negligent in its hiring and supervision of the contractor.
The asphalt company moved for summary judgment, arguing it had no employee-employer relationship with the driver, and even if it had known about driver’s license and insurance status, that wasn’t the cause of the crash. Trial court denied this motion.
Then, asphalt company filed a motion in limine to exclude evidence of driver’s suspended license and lack of insurance, arguing civil rules of litigation prohibit admitting that evidence except when it is a proximate cause of negligence or an accident. The court reserved its ruling on that.
It was later revealed that the driver was simply using the contractor trade name as a means to unlawfully operate his dump truck business, so the contractor name was dropped from the suit. That left just the driver and the asphalt company, which plaintiff asserted in an amended complaint meant that driver was an agent, servant and/or employee of the asphalt company.
Plaintiff further asserted defendant had a duty of care to operate the large truck in a safe and reasonable manner, and failed in this responsibility by:
- Failing to travel at a safe speed;
- Failing to stop to avoid a pedestrian;
- Violating state law with regard to registration, license and insurance;
- Being otherwise careless with vehicle operation.
Plaintiff attorney sought to establish that the asphalt company violated its own policies by failing to make sure its workers had a license and insurance before establishing an employment relationship.
Ultimately, jurors returned a verdict in favor of the pedestrian.
However on appeal, the Court of Special Appeals ruled the circuit court erred in admitting evidence of the driver’s lack of insurance and that this error was prejudicial to the defense. The verdict was reversed. The Court of Appeals Affirmed, sending the case back down the ladder for a new trial.
Call Associates and Bruce L. Scheiner, Attorneys for the Injured, at 1-800-646-1210.
Perry v. Asphalt & Concrete Servs., Inc., March 28, 2016, Maryland Court of Appeals
More Blog Entries:
Rish v. Simao – Low-Impact Defense in Car Accident Lawsuit, March 18, 2016, Fort Myers Accident attorney Blog