So you have been called for jury duty…It’s Monday morning, you’re tired and the last place you want to be is inside a courthouse all day while you could be at work or doing just about anything else. So after an hour of being ushered around, you end up in a courtroom with judges, attorneys, bailiffs, and court personnel starring at you. Finally, you realize that they disturbed your life to be a juror on a car accident case. Just add another tick to the frustration needle. After introductions are made you find out that the plaintiff is suing a little old lady. She looks upset, confused and…well, not wealthy. You continue through jury selection and you cannot get the idea out of your mind that this poor lady is getting sued. Must be your lucky day because you got picked for the trial! Adding insult to injury they tell you that this will go all week! No work for a week? Now you are really angry, but you promised the judge and the attorneys that you will put all these issues aside and decide this case on the facts and evidence. I mean, aside from serving in the military, this is the highest civic duty you can perform for your country.
For the next four days, you are presented with a story of the plaintiff and what has occurred since this tragic accident. You come to find out that the plaintiff is really hurt and had to have a complicated neck surgery because of all this. Further, you realize that the evidence is strong and you have little doubt that this accident caused these terrible injuries. More evidence is presented and there are medical bills over $100k and probably another $100k in medical bills over the lifetime of the plaintiff. Testimony from the people that know the plaintiff are sincere and visceral. You understand what this accident has caused in the plaintiff’s life. More importantly, you understand not only what this accident has taken from the plaintiff but what it’s left him with. The plaintiff lives with chronic pain now that affects him from the moment he wakes up to the moment he goes to sleep.
After a week, you and the other jurors are convinced that they hold the power to make the plaintiff whole again. It is completely deserved. You are asked to start deliberations and everyone is on the same page. All the jurors except one. This juror isn’t talking about the evidence. This juror isn’t talking about the testimony. This juror isn’t bringing up any points except one. “They are going to take everything from this little old lady. I know the plaintiff is injured but this was an accident! If we award all these damages this little old lady will be homeless.” All of a sudden those initial feelings you had started to rush in. You are flooded with the idea of this poor little old lady being put in the poor house, but you are torn because you know the right thing to do is to not let that come into consideration. But it does. An hour later the juror that brought up the possibility of having this little old lady lose everything has infected the entire jury panel, and they reduce the award to a fraction of what it should have been. You feel better about your decision and believe it to be a compromise.
The verdict is read and the plaintiff is emotionally distraught. The plaintiff attorney doesn’t know what went wrong. You look over at the little old lady and she looks the same…why? Does she not know what the jury did for her? Well, she doesn’t know, will never know, and doesn’t care. This is because she had nothing to do with this entire case. The defense attorneys, the defense experts, and everything done to oppose the plaintiff’s case had nothing to do with the little old lady. In fact, she had zero say so in how the case was defended. Days later you run into the plaintiff’s attorney at a grocery store. You start asking questions and realize that the little old lady was insured by the same insurance company that you have on your automobile. He explains to you that the reason you didn’t know that the insurance carrier was behind it was because of what’s called the Non-Joinder Rule. It’s a rule that prohibits plaintiffs from ever letting the jury know that there is insurance and that they paid for everything, and the little old lady had nothing to do with any of this.
So what is the purpose of the Non-Joinder Rule? The Non-Joinder Rule is actually a law passed by the Florida legislature, and the purpose was “to ensure that the availability of insurance has no influence on the jury’s determination of the insured’s liability and damages.” Basically, lawmakers wanted to avoid a situation where jurors are just finding defendants at fault because they know the insurance companies have deep pockets and can afford to pay. While it’s a fair concern from their perspective, the rule also has the effect of jurors denying a deserving plaintiff of damages because they believe a poor individual (like our little old lady) will be on the hook. The fact of the matter is that it’s also the law that a juror should make a decision based on the merits of the case, and not based on sympathy towards a defendant. Such feelings may lead to a miscarriage of justice where a legitimately injured person gets the short end of the stick when in fact there was more stick to give.
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