The Issue of whether Defendant’s procurement or lack of procurement of Liability Insurance should be disclosed to the Jury is a very thorny issue in a negligence trial. A wrongful disclosure of Liability Insurance to the Jury in a Rhode Island Personal Injury Trial could cause upheaval at the trial. Such a disclosure could prejudice the jury improperly. The wrongful disclosure may cause the judge to start a new trial or cause the judge to issue a curative instruction to the jury. What is the Rhode Island Law or rule that governs Insurance Disclosures at Rhode Island Personal Injury or Premises Liability Trials? Why is it so dangerous to the notion of justice and a fair trial that Juries not be told whether the Defendant has Liability Insurance?
“Rule 411 states that evidence that a person was or was not insured against liability is not admissible upon the issue whether he acted negligently or otherwise wrongfully. R.I. R. Evid. 411. The rule is intended to discourage inquiry into a defendant’s indemnity in a manner calculated to influence the jury.” Lemont
A wrongful and unlawful disclosure to the jury of Liability Insurance “may be cured by a timely cautionary instruction. Id., 330 A.2d at 78. The Rhode Island Superior Court Judge must determine whether such wrongful disclosure”so irreparably prejudiced the Defendant as to require a new trial.” Cochran v. Dube, 114 R.I. 149, 152, 330 A.2d 76, 78 (R.I. 1975)
Why is evidence of Defendant’s Insurance or Lack of Insurance so harmful to the administration of justice and the notion of a fair trial? There are many reasons:
1) The Jury may decide the case not on the central issue in the case: the negligence of the defendant. but rule in favor of the plaintiff because the Insurance Company has deep pockets to pay the claim.
2) The Plaintiff can improperly assert that the only reason the Plaintiff purchased Insurance was because he or she must have known there was a dangerous condition.
An example of this is Lemont in which the court stated “Particularly troublesome examples include Plaintiffs statements that Defendant had a dangerous [situation], so she bought insurance to cover it in case there was an accident; and that landowners should honor you by insurance when they make mistakes.”
3. If the Defendant is able to get into evidence that Defendants lacks Insurance coverage, this could evoke sympathy of the Jurors. The jury may sympathize with the defendant’s economic plight and rule in favor of the defendant. Ability and resources of the Defendant to pay a judgment is not something a jury should consider when determining a Rhode Island Personal Injury Case.
There are numerous other reasons why the Courts withhold info concerning Defendant’s Liability Insurance to the Jury.
There are also numerous exceptions to this Liability Insurance Rule.” Rule 411 specifically provides for the admission of evidence of liability insurance when it is offered for other purposes, including “bias or prejudice of a witness, or when the court determines that in the interests of justice evidence of insurance or lack of insurance should be permitted.” OLIVEIRA v. JACOBSON