I hope all of my readers had a joyous holiday filled with warmth of good friends and family. Now that we are in January I hope the New Year brings good tidings of health and prosperity.
As we head into the New Year, many of will be faced with the realities of an accident. Whether from an auto or
motorcycle accident the prospect of medical bills, and pain and suffering may befall some readers or their families. To those who read my column you know I am well acquainted with the pitfalls of those who face such tragedies. As you also know I am a firm believer in protecting oneself with adequate auto insurance including medical pay coverage insurance, and sufficient underinsured/uninsured motorist protection, especially add on coverage's. Perhaps one of your New Year's resolutions will be to have a meeting with your insurance agent to discuss your insurance limits and determine the best coverage available to you and your family. This is especially important for seniors who have Medicare coverage, and those on Medicaid because the Government wants to get paid back when you are in an accident. Frankly there is no reason not to carry the maximum medical pay limits of $100,000 (one hundred thousand dollars) to avoid paying back the Medicare or Medicaid you may owe. This advise stands equally true for those who have no health insurance as a serious injury can lead to bankruptcy.
In every motor vehicle case we must find out who caused the accident and the extent of insurance coverage they carry. Georgia requires each automobile owner to carry a minimum policy of insurance. In the event there is not enough coverage we look to see if our client's uninsured motorist policy will make up the difference between the responsible party's policy and the value of the claim. In many cases we look to the assets of the responsible driver if they don't have enough insurance. In every case we try to resolve a case without the necessity of filing suit. We always hope that the insurance company representative handling the responsible party's claim will be reasonable and will settle the claim for a reasonable amount without our having to bring a lawsuit.
In most every case our clients want to avoid going to court. They know that their claims involve an insurance claim, and can't believe that the insurance adjuster can be so unreasonable. What many can't believe is that when a lawsuit is finally brought it has to be filed against the driver who caused the accident so that any insurance coverage will be triggered to cover the loss. That responsible driver when covered by insurance will be given a lawyer chosen by the insurance company. In some cases the lawyer chosen by the insurance company is one employed directly by their own insurance company.
Although insurance is required in each vehicle no mention of insurance can be made or discussed before a jury. In most circumstances Georgia law prohibits the fact of any insurance and insurance coverage. This rule is designed to protect insurance companies and to not prejudice the jurors from awarding money against their insured's. Although insurance cannot be discussed in front of the jury there are hints about insurance coverage starting from the time of the jury selection process. At trial the Judge asks the question of each juror to determine if any juror has an interest in the case. That is why the judge asks each person if they are a stockholder or in the case of a mutual company a policy holder of a particular insurance company that may be called upon to pay for the damages in that case. The further fact of any insurance is never discussed again.
In actuality every document introduced at trial cannot mention insurance and has to be whited out before a jury can see it.
I have found this rule about keeping insurance out of the jurors' minds to be quite effective. People try to deliberate very carefully when they don't take insurance into the picture. This has the effect of minimizing jury awards because jurors are asked to place the blame on a person rather than the insurance company.
The insurance rule is just one of the many complexities of going to trial. In future columns I will write about other aspects of the trial process.