As I'm getting ready for a trial, I'm constantly reminded that the "reason the case is going to trial" has more to do with the defendant's insurance company than anything else. It's frustrating as an attorney fighting for justice because I have the burden of proof for the "facts" of the case, but what the jury really needs to hear, I'm not allowed to tell them.
Why? Well, the insurance industry has effectively "gagged" anyone from telling the jurors why the case is going to trial. Typically, the reason for that is that the insurance company who pulls the strings on the defendant, WANTS the case to go to trial, because they know that for every case that goes to trial, 99 just give up, and the insurance company gets to pay less than what is "fair and just" as the rules require.
Here are some of the "hidden" rules and insurance practices that you only learn about after you've been hurt by someone else's negligence.
You Can Not Mention the Insurance Company at Trial
Under no circumstances can a Plaintiff mention the word “Insurance” in trial, even though the person who is being sued has insurance. You cannot mention Insurance, nor can your witnesses, including the doctors, police or anyone else who may testify for you. If you do, the judge will grant a “mistrial” and we will have to try the case over again.
NC Rule of Evidence: Rule 411. Liability insurance.
Evidence that a person was or was not insured against liability is not admissible upon the issue whether he acted negligently or otherwise wrongfully. This rule does not require the exclusion of evidence of insurance against liability when offered for another purpose, such as proof of agency, ownership, or control, or bias or prejudice of a witness.
Insurance is available in at least 99% of all auto accident cases that go to trial. But, the insurance industry has lobbied the legislature so diligently that it has created a set of court rules that absolutely prohibits the lawyers representing injured people from telling the jury the truth that the little old lady in the defendant's chair has had no choice in whether she is sitting there or not. She cannot settle the case even if she believes you deserve everything you are asking for.
The insurance company is completely in control of how much to offer the injured person, whether to settle the claim or not, and what they should contest in the lawsuit. So, even if the little old lady sitting in the defendant's chair wanted to settle the lawsuit for the same amount as what the injured person is requesting, the insurance company won't offer the money.
In North Carolina, the Plaintiff has virtually no right to sue an insurance company for improperly denying a claim or delaying the payment of what is due. Again, effective political contributions, and legal maneuvering by insurers have resulted in these rules.
Its cheaper to deny the claim than settle.
Believe it or not, insurance companies have saved Billions of dollars since the mid 1990s, by improperly denying claims, and otherwise forcing litigation by paying far below the jury verdict average to settle claims. Frivolous defenses to legitimate claims have resulted in an increase in litigation, against people insured by these companies. This is part of a deliberate claim handling program implemented by McKinsey & Company, the same consulting firm that set up Enron's business model, at many of the nation's largest insurance companies. See "Record Insurance Profits" Article
But, in jury selection, jurors often mention that if the injuries are real, the case should have settled with the insurer. That is exactly what the insurance company is hoping for. It doesn't matter if they offered $0.50 on a claim worth $500,000. The jury will never know, because the lawyers are prohibited from ever mention the settlement negotiations during the trial.
McKinsey & Company counted on this when they told Allstate Insurance in the mid 1990's to quit treating people with “Good Hands” and instead treat them with “Boxing Gloves.” When Allstate forced more litigation and posted record profits, the rest of the insurance industry followed their lead. It is now standard operating procedure in the insurance industry to spend multiple times what a reasonable settlement would be to fight the claim, simply to prove to injured people and their lawyers that filing a claim for injuries is more trouble than it is worth. Read a Transcript of Anderson Cooper's Interview with one of Allstate's Victims
That is because the end result is that most lawyers will not take the cases, and people will not file the claims themselves. These improper denials have led to a huge spike in bankruptcies in the United States, the leading cause of which is an inability to pay for medical bills. So, when jurors turn injured people away, everyone but the person at fault, and their insurer pay for the damage. Instead, the jurors take the financial burden themselves through higher taxes to pay for the bankruptcy. For more, see the article entitled “In Tough Hands” in BusinessWeek.