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You Can’t Say “Insurance” In The Courtroom

After an automobile negligence trial, jurors always ask, “[w]hy didn’t you tell us whether the Defendant had insurance?”

Generally, in North Carolina civil trials, lawyers are not allowed to present evidence as to whether or not the Defendant is insured.

Rule 411 of the North Carolina Rules of Evidence provides that evidence that a person was or was not insured against liability is generally not admissible.

In Fincher v. Rhyne, 266 N.C. 64 (1965), our Supreme Court stated: “[w]here testimony is given, or reference is made, indicating directly and as an independent fact that the defendant has liability insurance, it is prejudicial, and the court should, upon motion therefor aptly made, withdraw a juror and order a mistrial.”

Our Supreme Court explained its rationale as follows: “[t]he existence of insurance covering defendant’s liability in a negligence case is irrelevant to the issues involved. It has no tendency to prove negligence or the quantum of damages. It suggests to the jury that the outcome of the case is immaterial to defendant and the insurer is the real defendant and will have to pay the judgment. It withdraws the real defendant from the case and leads the jury to regard carelessly the legal rights of the real defendant. No circumstance is more surely calculated to cause a jury to render a verdict against a defendant, without regard to the sufficiency of the evidence, than proof that the person against whom such verdict is sought is amply protected by indemnity insurance.”

Needless to say, most individuals I represent don’t like this logic. For the most part, the reason my clients are mad and suing is not because someone hit them with a car, but because Allstate, State Farm or some other insurance company treated them unfairly after the accident. My clients want juries to hear about the years of delay and heartache insurance adjusters have put them through.

There are a number of States where juries are told about the existence of insurance in automobile negligence cases; although this is the exception and not the rule. What do you think about this?

Robby JessupYou Can’t Say “Insurance” In The Courtroom