Those who bring personal injury claims in Maryland face a number of hurdles in achieving satisfactory recoveries for their damages. Some of these are fair, such as the burden of proof resting with a plaintiff to prove their case (although oftentimes jurors hold plaintiffs to a higher burden of proof than should be applicable, incorrectly raising the threshold of proof as the amount claimed increases). Other obstacles are inherent in the procedural aspects of civil law, leading to jurors being misled, which causes inequitable verdicts that fail to properly compensate injured parties for their losses.
One such example is the fact that jurors are left to believe that, in every case, individual defendants in personal injury suits are personally responsible for payment of the verdicts they render. In the overwhelming majority of cases, however, there is insurance coverage applicable that will pay all amounts eventually allowed by the jury. This is often the case whether you’re talking about a medical malpractice case, a personal injury suffered after a car crash, or an injury sustained on a business’s premises.
But in Maryland, the law requires that a plaintiff file suit directly against the negligent party as opposed to that person’s (or entity’s) insurance carrier. Because of this, a case is captioned as Ben Hurt v. Sally At-Fault as opposed to Ben Hurt v. “INSERT SALLY AT-FAULT’S INSURANCE COMPANY HERE.” Further, the rules of evidence preclude the admission or mention of liability insurance coverage except for limited exceptions, such that a jury will rarely hear the word “insurance,” let alone whether it applies in any particular case.
Let’s take the “average” personal injury case arising from a car crash. A jury hears the case caption of Ben Hurt v. Sally At-Fault. The jurors hear the defense attorney say that he or she represents Sally At-Fault. They never hear anything about insurance during the trial, whether through the course of testimony or in closing arguments. They see the parties individually named on the verdict sheet and, again, there’s no reference to insurance. Sometimes jurors will ask the judge whether insurance is applicable, but they are instructed that they have all the evidence they need to render an opinion and to make their verdict based on what they’ve seen and heard at trial only. Therefore, despite the fact that the average person knows that Maryland is a state that requires insurance coverage on any vehicle being driven on its roadways, jurors are kept in the dark about the matter and, as such, misled into believing that, since it wasn’t mentioned, it must not apply.
This misconception, which is created and perpetuated by the law – and strongly preferred by the insurance companies that are required to pay the vast majority of civil judgments in instances like those described above – leads jurors to believe that an individual defendant who caused an injury is going to be personally responsible for the amount of the judgment. As such, that jury is likely to reduce the amount it otherwise would have awarded had it known the truth, that is, that an insurance company that has already been receiving premiums to cover its insureds for situations like this (and investing and making more money off that premium) is going to pay the verdict (along with the attorney’s fee for the defense attorney).
Insurance companies don’t want this to change, as keeping jurors in the dark leads to lower awards. They argue that, if the jury were to know that insurance was applicable, jurors would tend to award more monetary damages. But the question is, if jurors award less money than they should when they don’t have accurate information available to them, and award “more” in damages when they know the truth, which is the more just outcome? Just because awards are higher when based on truthful information doesn’t mean they are “too high,” exorbitant or otherwise unjust. Rather, the lower awards that are based on incorrect or incomplete information are patently unjust. Put another way, which result is more just: a verdict that is based on complete information or one that is based on incomplete, misleading information?
The law should strive to assist jurors in making the best decision, and that goal requires arming them with more information rather than less, irrespective of whether the awards would then become lower or higher.