Texas Appeals Court Affirms $650,000 Verdict in Car Accident Case, Despite Mention of Liability Insurance in Closing Argument

It may come as a surprise that, during the trial of a Texas car accident case, the jury will most likely hear very little, if anything, about whether the defendant was insured at the time of the accident. The thought behind the rule generally prohibiting such evidence is that, if the jury knows that the defendant is insured, they will be more likely to find in the plaintiff’s favor.

However, there is an equally valid argument that, by being deprived of the knowledge that the defendant had insurance, they will instead think that any verdict they render will have to be paid directly by the defendant, thus causing them to find in the defendant’s favor. While not every utterance of the word “insurance” will result in a mistrial, it is highly likely that there will be an appeal if a mention is made and the jury subsequently awards a substantial verdict in the plaintiff’s favor.

Facts of the Case

In a recent case, the plaintiff was a man who was injured in an multi-vehicle automobile accident. He filed suit against the defendant motorist, who allegedly set the collision in motion by proceeding through a “stale yellow or red” signal light. At trial, the defendant testified that “the light had turned yellow before the intersection,” forcing him to make a “split second decision whether to stop or go.” He further stated that he saw a truck coming from the left and hit his brakes, but the first impact of the multi-car accident occurred, nevertheless. Although the defendant insisted that he did not enter the intersection on a red light, his adult son told police officers at the scene that his father had, in fact, ran the red light.

The jury returned a verdict in the plaintiff’s favor, awarding him $650,000 in damages. The defendant filed a motion for a new trial, asserting that the evidence was insufficient to support the jury’s findings on causation and damages. The defendant further averred that it had been reversible error for the trial court to admit evidence regarding his liability insurance. The trial court denied the defendant’s motion, and he appealed.

Decision of the Court

The Court of Appeals for the First District of Texas affirmed the trial court’s decision, first concluding that the evidence supported the jury’s finding as to causation and that there was “more than a scintilla of evidence” to support the damages award. Noting that, in determining whether erroneously admitted evidence about insurance resulted in the rendition of an improper verdict as asserted by the defendant on appeal, the court went on to say that its next task was to review the entire case from voir dire through closing argument, considering the evidence as a whole. The court further noted that Texas Rule of Evidence 411 prohibits the parties from inquiring about the existence of insurance in order to show that the insured individual was negligent or otherwise at fault. Because of this, it is generally considered error for insurance coverage to be mentioned during the trial of a personal injury lawsuit such as the one at bar. However, if a party “opens the door” to the admission of such evidence, it may be permissible for otherwise inadmissible evidence to be offered by the opposing party.

With regard to the issue of the defendant’s liability insurance in the case under consideration, the court found that there was no reversible error committed by the trial court judge with regard to ruling made regarding the admissibility or inadmissibility of certain statements regarding the fact that the defendant had liability insurance at the time of the accident. While the court did not condone certain statements made by the plaintiff’s attorney during his closing argument regarding the defendant’s insurer, the court found that the defendant had failed to demonstrate that the interjection of the matter of insurance at trial caused the rendition of an improper judgment in the case.

Consult a Seasoned East Texas Car Crash Lawyer

At Earl Drott Law, we offer a free consultation so that you can learn more about how we can put our 34 years of personal injury and wrongful death litigation to work in your east Texas auto accident case. Call us at 903-531-9300 to set up an appointment.