Most lawsuits involving personal injuries after an accident involve two sides: The person (or people) who were injured, and the people or companies who were negligent and caused the accident and injury. But hidden beneath the surface of Jane Victim vs. John Negligent Party is the role of the insurance carrier. Many do not realize just how important an insurance carrier can be in personal injury suits.
Collecting on Judgments
In many cases, when you sue to recover for injuries, you can be reasonably certain that whatever a jury awards you at trial, the negligent party will pay. Walmart, Fedex, the local shopping mall, and many other companies have the ability to pay almost any amount that a jury awards a victim.
But what if you are injured by the negligence of an individual person with nominal assets? Or a small business? In these cases, even if the jury awards a victim a large verdict, it may never get paid. The people or companies could file for bankruptcy, or simply be unable to pay what the verdict requires.
Sadly, the victims who are most likely to obtain judgments that are too large for smaller companies to pay are often the victims who are most catastrophically injured. The result is that those who need reparation the most,could be left with nothing, even after winning at trial.
This is where insurance comes in. In most cases, Insurance pay the judgment on behalf of the negligent party. Even a small business becomes able to satisfy a large settlement or judgment through payment by its insurance company. Insurance allows an injury victim to be reasonably certain that when he or she wins at trial, the amount won, will be paid.
Insurance and “Pointing the Finger”
Unfortunately, many defendants will use insurance “defensively.” In many cases, a defendant will argue that another party is responsible for a victim’s injuries, and not them. That other party may be completely uninsured.
For example, assume that you were to fall inside of a local grocery store on a wet floor that was being cleaned by a cleaning person. You sue the store, confident that if you win, you will be able to recover for whatever damages are awarded to you.
The store counters with finger-pointing, saying that it is not responsible for your injuries. They say the person they hired to clean their store is the negligent party. They may even force you to include that person as a party to your lawsuit.
The problem is that the cleaning person may have no insurance at all. Should a jury find the cleaning person responsible, collection on the judgment would be difficult or impossible.
The search for insurance begins before your lawsuit is filed. A good injury attorney will do investigation beforehand to ascertain which of any number of potentially negligent parties are insured and for how much.
Insurance and Auto Accidents
In Florida, auto accidents can pose a significant insurance problem. There is no law in Florida that requires that drivers carry insurance that protects other people (liability insurance). The insurance the law does require Florida residents carry is Personal Injury Protection (PIP), which does not pay victims for the negligence of those insured.
Many drivers, seeking the lowest possible insurance premiums, will take out insurance that does not include liability coverage. When those people injure other drivers in an accident, the victim may have no insurance from which to recover.
Insurance and Settlements
The amount of insurance coverage can also affect settlement. Accident victims need to consider how much insurance will pay if a verdict is won, in calculating whether to accept a settlement or not. Unfortunately the maximum amount of insurance sometimes is a baseline to evaluate whether a settlement offer is reasonable and should be accepted.
Assume a victim has sustained injuries in an auto accident, which are reasonably valued at $100,000. The negligent party is an individual with little or no personal assets. If the negligent party only has $10,000 in insurance, and offers that amount, then the victim may have little choice but to settle for $10,000, being aware that anything above that value that a jury may eventually award would be against the defendant personally, and likely, uncollectable.
Insurance is Hidden From the Jury
Insurance gets a number of special privileges in Florida law. One such privilege is the right to remain hidden. A jury in a personal injury trial is not allowed to be told that a defendant is insured, that insurance will pay the claim, or even that insurance is paying for the defendant’s attorney (as it almost always does).
This can create obstacles in an injury trial. A jury may be sympathetic to someone who may have been negligent. For example, if an elderly woman or a police officer were to cause an accident and be a defendant in a lawsuit, a jury may have sympathy for the defendant, and be reluctant to award a verdict, even if the jury feels that person was responsible for the accident. The jury is never told that the insurance will be paying the verdict—not the actual defendant.
In fairness, the opposite could be true as well: A jury who is aware that insurance is paying a verdict may award a much larger amount, believing that an insurance company has “deep pockets.”
Insurance is one of the players in the personal injury world that very much operates behind the scenes. But understanding how and when it works, and its effects, can go a long way towards maximizing recovery for your injuries.
There are more issues in a personal injury than you may think. Make sure your attorneys understand how to obtain the recovery you need for your injuries. Contact the personal injury attorneys of Brill & Rinaldi today for a free consultation about your case.