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Why Don’t North Carolina Juries Know Who Is Really Being Sued in Car Accident Cases?

Did you know that in North Carolina, the deck is sometimes stacked against people who have been injured – through no fault of their own – by negligent drivers? It’s a fairly complex nuance to our state’s laws that many people wouldn’t know unless they have experience with it or are a lawyer themselves. That’s why it’s so important for people who have been injured in North Carolina to seek out an experienced personal injury lawyer if they were injured by another’s negligence.

Insurance Companies Can Play Hide and Seek Against a Jury

One example of the deck being stacked is the state’s evidentiary rule that allows liability insurance companies to essentially “hide” from juries at trial. Specifically, in North Carolina, a jury is not allowed to know that an insurance company has an applicable insurance policy that could cover the money being sought by the injured party in trial. Rule 411 of the North Carolina Rules of Evidence reads as follows:

Evidence that a person was or was not insured against liability is not admissible upon the issue whether he acted negligently or otherwise wrongfully. 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. (1983, c. 701, s. 1.)

The stated rationale for this rule is that juries could be convinced to award higher damages to the plaintiff if they know that the defendant’s insurance company is “on the hook” for it, rather than the actual defendant for causing the injury.

NC Juries May Not Know Just How Much Insurance Companies Control

The truth is that in the vast majority of cases, there is liability insurance coverage involved. This means that the insurance company is responsible for paying any awards within the policy limit, and they are also responsible for deciding whether or not to settle the case out of court or to take the case to trial. It is also the insurance company who hires the lawyer who represents the defendant in court. In other words, they call the shots on behalf of the defendant.

The fact of the matter is that the liability insurance company controls every aspect of the case from the defendant’s side — and yet an insurance company cannot be named as part of a lawsuit or referenced in a trial? That’s extremely unfair to the plaintiff and all injured parties.

Effects of Withholding Liability Insurance Information on Juries

Granted, this rule may make sense under certain situations, but it has a significantly pro-defendant effect on juries, and in my opinion, has resulted in many unfair jury awards to plaintiffs who have been seriously injured, especially when a juror is made to believe that the defendant may have to pay the award out of his or her own pocket. And while at the conclusion of the trial, the judge will give the jury an instruction to not consider the defendant’s ability or inability to pay any award reached, in reality, I believe this is always a factor that a jury will consider.

What about when the defendant is a close friend or family member of the plaintiff? The friend or family member certainly does not control whether the insurance company treats the plaintiff fairly. So when the insurance company refuses to fairly negotiate a settlement, your attorney has no other choice but to name that close friend or family member in a lawsuit.

Now who has the upper hand? The insurance company just forced the plaintiff to sue a friend or a relative in court, and that never looks good to a jury. The insurance company is very aware of this tactic, and will not be afraid to use it.

A Real-World Example

About few years ago, there was a case that received national attention when a New York woman sued her twelve-year-old nephew (who was eight at the time of the incident) over a badly fractured wrist she had sustained when he accidentally knocked her over and caused her to try to catch herself with her wrist.

The backlash she received from the public was brutal as they could not understand why she was suing her twelve-year-old nephew for $127,000. How in the world could the boy ever be able to pay that much money? The jury came back and awarded the plaintiff nothing on her claim.

The truth of the matter is that the plaintiff was never seeking any money from her own nephew. She was seeking to get her existing medical bills covered by the applicable homeowner’s insurance policy. Prior to trial, the insurance company offered a measly $1 to settle her case.

Even though plaintiff’s dispute was with the insurance company and not the nephew, New York has a similar rule to North Carolina’s, where the insurance company could not be named as a party to the suit nor could there be any mention of liability insurance.

If the jury were to have been made aware of the full details of this woman’s claim, is there any doubt that there would have been a different result?

North Carolina Personal Injury Cases Can Be Complex – Call a Personal Injury Attorney for Help

If nothing else, this blog should illustrate just one of many complexities of a personal injury lawsuit in North Carolina, as well as why it can be critically important to have an experienced personal injury attorney to guide you through the process.

And while the deck may be stacked against personal injury plaintiffs in the state, there are usually exceptions to many of the rules – depending on the facts and circumstances of your particular case. An experienced personal injury attorney can help level the playing field by identifying those exceptions that may tend to benefit your case and protect you against the insurance company’s tactics.

Please call the Law Offices of James Scott Farrin at 1-866-900-7078, chat with us, or contact us here for a free case evaluation. We don’t recoup an attorney’s fee if we don’t get you compensation.

Attorney Michael Williams joined the Law Offices of James Scott Farrin in 2019 handling personal injury cases.

Michael earned his J.D. from North Carolina Central University School of Law in Durham. Prior to law school, he received his B.A. in Political Science from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Contact Information

Asheville Law Office

300 Ridgefield Court Suite 309
Asheville, NC 28806
Phone: 828-552-8215
Toll Free: 1-866-900-7078

Charlotte Law Office

301 S McDowell St, Suite 900
Charlotte, NC 28204
Phone: 704-599-1078
Toll Free: 1-866-900-7078

Durham Law Office

280 South Mangum Street, Suite 400
Durham, NC 27701
Phone: 919-688-4991
Fax: 800-716-7881

Fayetteville Law Office

2915 Raeford Road, Suite 204
Fayetteville, NC 28303
Phone: 910-488-0611
Toll Free: 1-866-900-7078

Goldsboro Law Office

1308 Wayne Memorial Drive, Suite B
Goldsboro, NC 27534
Phone: 919-731-2581
Toll Free: 1-866-900-7078

Greensboro Law Office

300 N. Greene Street, Suite 850
Greensboro, North Carolina 27401
Phone: 336-665-7072
Toll Free: 1-866-900-7078

Greenville Law Office

702 Cromwell Dr. Suite G
Greenville, NC 27858
Phone: 252-355-5205
Toll Free: 1-866-780-3227

Henderson Law Office

514 Dabney Drive, Suite 200
Henderson, NC 27536
Phone: 252-492-4600
Toll Free: 1-866-900-7078

Morganton Law Office

216 N. Sterling Street, Suite B
Morganton, NC 28655
Phone: 828-219-3080
Toll Free: 1-844-520-2894

New Bern Law Office

1505 South Glenburnie Rd, Unit P
New Bern, NC 28562
Phone: 252-634-9010
Toll Free: 1-866-780-3422

Raleigh Law Office

4325 Lake Boone Trail, Suite 100
Raleigh, NC 27607
Phone: 919-834-1184
Toll Free: 1-866-900-7078

Roanoke Rapids Law Office

709 Julian R. Allsbrook Highway
Roanoke Rapids, NC 27870
Phone: 252-537-9670
Toll Free: 1-866-900-7078

Rocky Mount Law Office

144 Woodridge Court
Rocky Mount, NC 27804
Phone: 252-937-4730
Toll Free: 1-866-900-7078

Sanford Law Office

703-B South Horner Boulevard
Sanford, NC 27330
Phone: 919-775-1564
Toll Free: 1-866-900-7078

Wilson Law Office

2315 Airport Blvd Suite A
Wilson, North Carolina 27896
Phone: 252-246-9090
Toll Free: 1-866-900-7078

Winston-Salem Law Office

301 N. Main Street, Suite 2409-C
Winston-Salem, NC 27101
Toll Free: 1-866-900-7078