Attorneys are not allowed to tell jurors how much insurance is available to compensate the victim.
If you have ever been the victim of a negligent driver, you know you deal with the insurance company and not the at-fault party directly. In fact, the at-fault party has very little, if any, authority regarding negotiations and pre-trial settlements. In personal injury trials, it is the insurance company, not the at-fault party, that directs the defense. A personal injury case goes to trial when the injured party and the insurance company can’t agree on the monetary amount for damages.
Florida’s Non-Joinder Statute
However, when the lawsuit is initially filed, the insurance company is omitted as a defendant. Now the at-fault party is named instead. This is because insurance companies are protected under Florida’s Non-Joinder Statute. It prohibits attorneys from revealing to a jury that the defendant has insurance coverage, not to mention how much. This rule prevents the jury from knowing how much insurance coverage is available to compensate an injured party.
The intent behind this legislation is to protect insurance companies from potential jury bias. Unfortunately, the application can be misleading for a juror; it now seems as though the plaintiff is suing a defendant personally. Oftentimes, insurance defense attorneys will play into this misconception. They will try to lead a jury to believe a plaintiff is suing the defendant for all they have when, in fact, there is adequate insurance and compensation available. The reality is that this rule really just leaves jurors in the dark.
Insurance companies pay doctors a lot of money to get an opinion that supports their defense.
The Compulsory Medical Exam
Under Florida law, insurance companies are permitted to send you, the injured person, to a compulsory medical exam (CME). The CME is performed by a doctor of the insurance company’s choosing, and often this doctor sees you just ONE time.
CME Doctors Get Paid to Testify for the Insurance Company
While it may seem like a routine medical exam, that doctor is not actually your doctor. He or she is an expert witness for the defense and will ultimately testify against you in court. In fact, insurance companies often use the same doctors time and time again, like Dr. Shim, Dr. Rosenbach, Dr. Larabee and Dr. Hoffman. They already know these particular physicians are well-versed in defense testimony, so they will support the insurance company’s position in court.
It should come as no surprise insurance companies have deep pockets with all the money they collect in insurance premiums. Month after month, year after year, they collect from hundreds of thousands of people across the U.S. That very money is used to pay these CME doctors millions and millions of dollars for consistent opinions that support the insurance company’s view. Often, these CME doctors earn a majority of their income by testifying for the defense in cases just like yours.
Insurance companies capitalize on making juries believe personal injury cases are all frivolous and brought by greedy plaintiffs.
The McDonald’s Coffee Case
Plaintiffs are often working class victims that have no choice but to sue just to pay their medical expenses. A perfect example of this is the infamous McDonald’s coffee case. Stella was a 79-year-old woman who was in a parked car when she spilled coffee on herself. She suffered 3rd degree burns on her legs and genitals that required multiple skin graft operations. Stella’s injuries were as severe as they were because McDonald’s was serving coffee that was a searing 190 degrees.
This is even after McDonald’s received over 700 reports that customers suffered burns as a result of the coffee being too hot. After waiting several months, the insurance company refused to pay her medical bills and offered her a measly $800. She was left with no choice but to sue. As a result of McDonald’s negligence, Stella was left permanently disfigured.
Nothing about Stella’s case was frivolous. The insurance company sold a distorted view of the story to the media who then turned it into a punchline. The insurance companies used this to support their agenda of convincing the general public that all lawsuits are frivolous. And it worked.
The Reality of Personal Injury Suits
The McDonald’s coffee case is only one of many examples how insurance companies distort the law by creating a false narrative of personal injury cases. In reality, personal injury lawsuits have declined in the past several decades, and attorneys are banned from filing frivolous lawsuits by the Rules of Civil Procedure. If a case is found to be meritless, an attorney can be fined, sanctioned and/or required to pay legal fees incurred by the other side. There are far too many legitimate cases for attorneys to waste their time and money taking a case with no merit to court.
Don’t buy into the insurance company’s distorted view that most cases are “frivolous” and just brought by greedy plaintiffs. That is exactly where they want you. The amount of trial experience your attorney has affects the insurance company’s assessment of your case.
When insurance companies assess your case, your attorneys’ trial experience factors into their evaluation. The insurance company will look at your attorneys’ experience, how likely they are to go to trial and their jury verdict history. This is is why it is so important to hire attorneys who have trial experience.