Why You Don’t Hear About Liability Insurance in a Jury Trial
Did you know that during most Tennessee state court jury trials, you will never hear the word “insurance?” That’s because 99% of the time, evidence of liability insurance is not admissible under the Tennessee Rules of Evidence.
Tennessee Rule of Evidence 411 provides that:
Evidence that a person was or was not insured against liability is not admissible upon issues of negligence or other wrongful conduct. 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.
Rule 411 is based on the notion that disputes should be resolved based on the conduct of the people involved, not based on whether they have insurance.
Insurance Jury Instruction
Not everyone has insurance. Some people have some insurance, but not enough. Sometimes a person will have purchased an insurance policy only to find out that it won’t apply to pay damages in certain kinds of lawsuits. Sometimes the Judge will issue a jury instruction in Tennessee to help guard against improper consideration of insurance. When the instruction is used, the Judge tells the jury that:
[W]hether or not insurance exists has no bearing upon any issue in this case. You may not discuss insurance or speculate about insurance based on your general knowledge. There are sound reasons for this rule. A party is no more or less likely to be negligent because a party does or does not have insurance. Injuries and damages, if any, are not increased or decreased because a party does or does not have insurance.
Tennessee Pattern Jury Instruction – Civil 1.05.
Insurance Information Is Still Useful
Just because we can’t use evidence of insurance in jury trials doesn’t mean we can’t make good use of the information. Knowing whether parties are insured, and to what extent, helps us develop an efficient strategy for resolving a dispute, and it helps us give sound advice to our clients who are wondering if they should settle a claim or file a lawsuit.
Need help settling a claim with a liability insurance carrier?
We can help you. Wiseman Bray has offices in Memphis and Nashville Tennessee. Call us at 901-372-5003 or email us here.