If You’re Called for Jury Duty:
Understanding Insurance Rules in Tennessee
By Steve Karr
Have you ever been called in for jury duty and sat on a jury deciding liability and damages in a motor vehicle accident case? You may have wondered why the word “insurance” never came up.
The Rules of Evidence in Tennessee do not permit lawyers to bring evidence of insurance before the jury. This rule is based on the idea that liability (fault) should be determined based on the conduct of the party/parties involved – NOT whether or not a party has insurance. Everyone is supposed to walk into the courtroom on a level playing field. Mentioning insurance could influence a jury to award an injured person a larger sum of money only because the jury knows that insurance money is involved.
Lawyers shouldn’t even try to hint at the subject of insurance. In a rather famous Tennessee case decided in 1973 (Lovin v. Stanley), a mistrial was granted when a lawyer argued to a jury the following:
“You do not have to concern yourself with the source of whatever you deem reasonable and proper in this case. I normally wouldn’t or couldn’t say that and would be ashamed to, but now I have to. She’s in ‘good hands,’ is all I can say. I am ashamed I have to bring it to you in this way.”
The lawyer made this reference about being in “good hands,” while cupping his hands together to mimic the logo of AllState. Needless to say, a new trial was granted in that case. The defendant was prejudiced by the injured person’s attorney’s actions.
In the future, should you ever serve on a jury involving a motor vehicle accident, you will have a better understanding of why Tennessee law does not allow insurance to be mentioned.