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Can a Jury Be Told that the Other Side Has Auto Accident Insurance?

auto accident article writer Daniel Horowitz attorney at law photo of his face

In a car accident case at trial, a jury might hesitate to award an injured person millions of dollars if the driver at fault seems unable to pay. You would think that in fairness the jury should be told that the other side has auto accident insurance so that the jury can award what is right. But that is not the law.

In the Court of Appeal case, Neumann v. Bishop (1976) 59 Cal.App.3d 451 the court held that:

The evidence [of liability insurance] is regarded as both irrelevant and
prejudicial to the defendant. Hence, not only is it subject to objection and
exclusion, but any attempt to inject it by question, suggestion or argument is
considered misconduct of counsel, and is often held reversible error.
(Neumann v. Bishop (1976) 59 Cal.App.3d 451, 469 [130 Cal.Rptr.

Stated more simply, “Evidence of a defendant’s insurance coverage ordinarily is not admissible to prove the defendant’s negligence or other wrongdoing.” (Blake v. E. Thompson Petroleum Repair Co. (1985) 170 Cal.App.3d 823, 830 [216 Cal.Rptr. 568]

In fact the judge at trial will tell the jury not to consider insurance coverage.  There is a standard jury instruction that says this:

CACI No. 105, provides: “You must not consider whether any of the parties in this case has insurance. The presence or absence of insurance is totally irrelevant. You must decide this case based only on the law and the evidence.”

At trial there are ways that juries learn about insurance coverage. First it may come out that witnesses were contacted by insurance company representatives or investigators. Courts sometimes require that the hiring entity be redacted or these investigators claim that they work for the defense attorneys. But to most jurors, if the defendant is broke, how can he afford these attorneys, experts and investigators. Even without any grey areas or cheating by plaintiff’s counsel, jurors generally get the point. An experienced trial attorney can-should and must ask experts how much money they were paid to prepare for trial and testify. This will expose tens of thousands of dollars in fees paid. Again, this does not violate the don’t tell the jury there is insurance rule but it certainly cuts against any “pity the poor defendant he/she can’t afford to pay the judgment”.

Still, at a car accident trial we often see the defendant as a straw man/women. Dressed nicely, hanging around in the hallway with a smiling family. The same is done by plaintiff as both sides try to create familiarity, sympathy and connection.

If you have been involved in car accident, the nuances of trial start with preparation for trial. 95% of car accident cases settle easily but for those that don’t you need an experienced trial lawyer on your side. The Horowitz office is located in Lafayette (Contra Costa County). We have taken wrongful death, car accident, negligence, employment and whistleblower cases to trial in Contra Costa, Alameda, San Francisco and many of the nearby counties. If you have been injured, call Daniel Horowitz. There is never a fee until we recover for you.