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Taking a lawsuit to court is full legal complexities. In this video, HensonFuerst managing partner David Henson discusses one of the most unfair legal rules in the North Carolina system. Even though North Carolina requires all drivers to carry insurance, a jury in a motor vehicle wreck case cannot know that an insurance company covered the at-fault driver. Watch this video to learn more about this strange legal rule.
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In the event of a car wreck, drivers in North Carolina are protected by their insurance company, which handles claims against them up to the amount of insurance coverage purchased. This means that if you’re in a wreck, the insurance company is supposed to negotiate claims on your behalf in good faith. If they fail, meaning that the claim isn’t settled and a lawsuit is filed, then the insurance company must hire an attorney to represent you, to the extent of the insurance coverage that you bought. This is where it gets tricky, however.
In a traditional automobile wreck case, your legal claim is technically against the at-fault driver, not their insurance company (even though their insurance company has a legal obligation to handle it for them). If the insurance company won’t pay the fair value of your case, then you are only allowed to sue the at-fault driver. You cannot sue the insurance company, even though you would like to, or if it seems logical, or even if they have not negotiated your case fairly or in good faith.
That’s why, if a lawsuit is filed, the caption of the complaint will read “John Smith, plaintiff v. Bob Jones , defendant.” Nowhere in the complaint will Allstate, Nationwide, Geico or any other insurance carrier be named or referenced.
Even more frustrating is that, during the trial of your lawsuit, the identity of the automobile insurance company cannot ever be mentioned in front of the jury. Even though the insurance company is paying for the defendant’s lawyer, even though there might be an insurance adjuster sitting in the courtroom, and even though the insurance company will have to pay the award that the jury makes, there can be NO MENTION of the insurance company. At the end of the trial, the jury will be asked how much is “Bob Jones, Defendant” obligated to pay to “John Smith, Plaintiff” as a result of the automobile wreck…NOT how much will the insurance company pay.
If even the existence of automobile insurance comes out during the trial and the jury hears it, then there is legal ground for a mistrial, which means that the trial will have to start over again with a new jury .
This among the most frustrating and unfair laws in North Carolina. Juries are confused when insurance isn’t mentioned in trial, especially because they know that we’re all required to carry automobile insurance. As a lawyer, I have seen countless cases where a jury makes an award believing that the judgment will have to be paid by the defendant personally, rather than by an insurance company who is in the business to do this. As a result, the award is often unfairly low for the types of injuries they are meant to compensate.
We believe that insurance companies should be held accountable for the way that they treat injured people, and for they way they deny claims without regard to fairness or what is morally right.