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Introduction of the fact of insurance into evidence

In Michigan, the jury is rarely allowed to know that a defendant has insurance coverage.  Under normal conditions, the fact of insurance is not admissible for fear that it will prejudice the outcome:  most jurists and insurance people assume that a jury will be more reluctant to award damages, or will award smaller damages, if they fear the damages will be paid out of an individual's pocket. 

If a Plaintiff suing for personal injury damages intentionally brings up the fact of insurance coverage, so that jurors won't fear a verdict bankrupting the individual defendant, the court will normally order a new trial, with the Plaintiff paying the Defendant's related costs.

In Gray v. Bock, the Court was presented with a situation where the tables were turned.  When Gray sued to collect lost wages which he would have earned after his No Fault PIP wages expired (3 years after the collision), the Defendant told the jury that Gray was insured and had collected wage loss for the first three years post-injury.  The Defendant claimed that it was entitled to introduce this evidence and to emphasize Plaintiff's insurance benefits several times during the trial, because it claimed the Plaintiff's attorney had attempted to depict the Plaintiff as "on the verge of poverty".

The jury held that Gray had suffered a "serious impairment of bodily function", but awarded only $12,000.00 in lost wages.  Gray sought a new trial, citing the Defendant's repeated references to his no fault coverage, which is normally not admissible, and Plaintiff's belief that these references prejudiced the jury against him.  The Court of Appeals was mildly critical of the Defense attorney's conduct in  introducing the fact of insurance, but held that it was justifiable in this instance, solely for the purpose of challenging the Plaintiff's credibility. 

Since the transcript is not available to us, we don't know if the Plaintiff was too clever for his own good and got what he deserved, or whether the Defendant's insurer and the Court took advantage of a nuanced statement and used it out of context to prejudice the victim and then to avoid upsetting a jury verdict.  Historically, verdicts are almost sacrosanct and very difficult to upset; although the "Engler majority" of the Michigan Supreme Court has upset that longstanding policy by overturning a number of victim verdicts in recent years.

Thompson O’Neil, P.C.
309 East Front Street
Traverse City, Michigan 49684
Toll Free: 1-800-678-1307
Fax: 231-929-7262