If you are at the courthouse wondering in an accident case if the other driver, the defendant, has insurance, the answer is “YES, THEY HAVE INSURANCE.” How do you think the defendant is paying for the lawyer who represents them? It’s their insurance. Most people don’t have a lot of assets. You cannot get blood out of a turnip. If they don’t have insurance, the case will not go to trial, because any judgment would not likely be collected. Therefore, the lawyer representing the person who brought the suit will not go to trial on a case where the judgment cannot be paid. The lawyer who filed the lawsuit and represents a plaintiff in an automobile accident case is being paid on a contingency basis. If he does not collect (not simply win a judgment), the lawyer will not be paid. Can you afford to work for free? Do you think a lawyer can take the risk of not collecting a judgment they win when he is responsible for paying his office overhead expenses, including the salaries of all of the other people in their office? The fact that there is insurance from which to collect the judgment means the lawyer can take the case to court.
Alabama mandatory liability insurance
Don’t forget, in Alabama we have a mandatory liability insurance coverage law which requires every driver to have liability insurance, § 32-7-6(c) Ala. Code (1975). So, if the case is at the courthouse for trial, there is insurance.
Another thing that happens when a jury is being selected at the beginning of a trial, the Judge will normally ask everyone who has insurance with (name ) company to raise their hand. Those people will automatically be removed “for cause” from the jury venire or panel, since they own insurance with that insurance company. When those not “chosen” to serve on the jury are announced, the people who have insurance with the insurance company of the driver (defendant) will be “excused,” not selected. The fact that this question was asked (it means there is insurance) goes right over the heads of many jurors. Sometimes, insurance companies will play possum, and have the judge not ask the question, because they don’t want the sharp jurors who will remember the question tell the others there on the jury that there is insurance.
Recently, a lawsuit was lost at the courthouse that some other lawyers tried. I heard about the outcome and talked with one of the attorneys who tried the case. It really was a clear case of liability (the driver who hit the other car was at fault). A middle aged woman was driving on the interstate. There was a wreck ahead, so she had to quickly stop. She did. The car behind her did not, it hit her from behind. Under the law you must maintain enough distance between your car and the car ahead so that if they suddenly stop, you can stop without hitting them.
For years, the rule-of-thumb was that you should allow one car length between you and the vehicle in front of you for every 10 MPH you are traveling. Example, you are traveling 30 MPH, you should not be closer than three car lengths so that you can stop without hitting them. More recently, an easier approach is the “two second rule.” The idea is that you choose a fixed object like a tree or light pole ahead. You start counting seconds, “One thousand one, one thousand two” from the time the vehicle in front of you goes past that object until you reach the object (tree, pole, bridge, etc.). If you reach it before you have counted two seconds, you are traveling too fast and need to slow down. See, Alabama Driver’s Manual, pg. 37.
The driver who hit the woman was a very likeable young man. He said that he just could not stop the car when the lady before him suddenly stopped on the interstate. He was driving a relatively low-price car and the woman was driving a much nicer car. The woman who was hit from behind had approximately $30,000 in medical bills. Admissible into evidence was that she had health insurance which had paid the bills. Under the contract that the insurance company had with the health care providers, they accepted $10,000 for the services they provided. (If you don’t have health insurance which has such contracts, you pay the full $30,000.) The woman now had bulging discs in her back and pain everyday that she didn’t have before the wreck.
The jury found for the defendant, that he was not negligent. One of the lawyers talked to the jury afterward and the juror said, “Too bad that young man didn’t have insurance to pay for the damage.” The lawyer told the juror that the young man did have insurance, but under the law in Alabama he could not put that evidence before the jury or ask any question about insurance coverage. The juror suddenly had a look of shock on their face. Had the jury known there was insurance, instead of thinking about wanting not to “hurt” that nice young man who was at the beginning of his life and didn’t have much compared to the women who was hit, they would have found him negligent because he indeed was negligent.
So, despite Alabama’s mandatory liability insurance coverage law which requires every driver to have liability insurance, § 32-7-6(c) Ala. Code (1975), the jury assumed because there was not any evidence presented that he did have insurance that any judgment in the case would be paid by him. They decided he didn’t have the money to pay, so they found in his favor.
So, health insurance premiums went up, because the money paid by the women’s insurance company was not repaid by the young man’s insurance for the injury he caused. The woman now lives everyday in pain, because she stopped and the young man didn’t stop. She will have future care and medical bills, co-pays, prescriptions for pain relief, and all the rest, but she now bears that expense instead of it being paid for her future care by young man’s insurance company. The only people helped by finding against the woman was the insurance company and it’s shareholders unjustly making money at her expense. That’s why they tried the case. They thought they could pull a fast one on the woman and the jury. That’s why the insurance company did not settle the case. The insurance company got away with it.
So, the next time you wonder during a trial, “Does the defendant have insurance?” in a motor vehicle accident case, the answer is “YES.” Do your duty and find against the defendant if he was negligent. (Of course, if he was not negligent, you should not find he was negligent.) The reason there is insurance and the reason Alabama requires it is to pay a judgment when the driver is at fault for causing a wreck.