What Juries Do Not Know
99% of trials in personal injury cases are about insurance. What juries do not know, is that the true battle is between the injured individual and the insurance carrier who represents an individual or corporation who is being sued. The jury is led to believe that the Defendant is an individual or a corporation, but the case is really about his insurance policy and the insurance company… and the droves of attorneys for the insurance company who will fight not to compensate fairly and pay what’s due.
In most cases, the responsible party’s insurance company has made efforts to stall, reduce, or deny compensation to an injured person who was hurt despite the fact that their insured (the defendant) has adequate insurance to cover their liability – insurance the defendant has paid high premiums for to be there when they need it. To pay or not to pay the benefit limits of the insurance policy is completely up to the insurance company, not Joe Smith, their insured client.
But due to court rules and instructions, jurors are lead to believe that our clients are suing the individual at fault, attacking them personally and asking for their personal assets to be handed over. The insurance company attorneys know this and play upon this confusion. Nothing is farther from the truth. It’s about insurance and the insurance company’s failure to pay when liability has been established.
The game of delay, deny and dispute and then blame the trial lawyers that insurance companies engage in further harms the injured individual because they often have to cover expensive medical care out of their own pocket, or can’t seek the treatment they need at all. As the bills mount, many will lose their homes and see their family relationships destroyed due to lack of income if they’re unable to work. Severe injuries and the financial worries that go hand in hand often cause unnecessary and avoidable depression, adding to the burdens the injured and their families suffer.
All the while, attorneys for the Defendant’s insurance company delay and hope that the injured Plaintiff runs out of time and money requiring them to settle for short dollars. Delay is invited by the system. Since defendant attorneys are paid whether they win or lose, and are paid by the hour, there is a financial incentive to bill the case for years so that the law firm can make the most money from each case. While the Defendant’s law firm is being paid hourly and making monthly fees for prolonging the case, the plaintiff is suffering, many going broke and losing their families.
The insurance company holds onto their money and the interest it earns for years longer than if they paid in a timely manner at the start. Their liability becomes extended revenue. Yet, a trial can cost the injured party tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars, and will be deducted from any verdict awarded by the jury; something else the jury is never told. The headlines of million-dollar verdicts never represent the ultimate dollar amount an injured party will actually recover, and it will never represent the years of pain and anguish, not to mention all they’ve lost and suffered to receive a judgment in their favor. This is especially true for life-long or career-ending injuries.
Ultimately, the cost of a trial in both monetary terms and extended emotional and physical pain is unfairly placed upon the injured, as the laws do nothing to force early responsible negotiation and fair action on the part of the insurance company.
Hoping that such pain will become too great for the injured to carry, insurance companies bet that the injured will give up and settle for less after a few years because they can’t afford to endure it. And if they are forced to trial, their losses are countered by the interest they’ve earned over the years by not paying what’s owed. Even if the insurance company loses at trial, in many cases they still win financially. Not so for the injured party, as the personal and financial losses are often immeasurable.
Jurors face a daunting task as they collectively strive for a fair and just conclusion, often under circumstances where other vital financial information is disguised or never disclosed that greatly reduces any compensation an injured party is ultimately awarded.
Jurors are never told that an injured party is obligated to repay any medical benefits paid by a personal health insurance policy (despite their years of paying premiums for those benefits) if a recovery is made at trial. Additionally jurors are never told that despite years (typically) of fighting the responsible party’s insurance company before going to trial, a worker injured on the job is obligated to repay Workers’ Compensation benefits out of the award they receive, reducing their ability to be made whole.
For example: if a recovery of $150,000 is awarded by a jury against a general/sub- contractor’ insurance company for which $50,000 in Workers’ Compensation benefits has already been paid in medical bills and loss of wages, the injured worker is obligated to repay his/her Workers’ Compensation insurance company out of the trial settlement, thus reducing automatically the award to $100,000 before other costs – such as court costs and attorney fees – are assessed. The injured worker ultimately receives far less than the jury had intended in good faith.
Likewise, if an injured party’s own auto or medical insurance policy has covered all or part of the medical expenses (up to the limits of their policy), that money must also be repaid out of any recovery against the responsible party’s insurance company, again reducing the overall recovery awarded by a jury to the Plaintiff. Repaying a lien from one’s personal insurance company against any future award by a jury can greatly reduce the overall award necessary for a lifetime care – all without the jury being aware of such a lien.
Many large companies today are self-insured, meaning that their employees receive health benefits from their company’s own medical savings account rather than a standard medical insurance policy from a private insurance company (i.e., Blue Cross, Blue Shield). In most cases, employees must sign an agreement to repay all medical expense benefits paid if they win a lawsuit against a responsible party. The jury is not told that the Plaintiff is obligated to repay their employer’s medical account dollar for dollar, thus reducing the award by the jury, which can be harmful to the Plaintiff.
If jurors actually knew about insurance carrier tactics and all the delay, costs, and liens that would automatically reduce their awards to injured parties, they’re awards would be greater… sending a much stronger message to an insurance industry that so far has had all the advantages of non-disclosure on their side.
Chicago personal injury lawyer, Cliff Horwitz, is a managing partner and lead trial attorney. He welcomes your comments on this article and can be reached at (800)-985-1819.