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What Every Juror Should Know

Honest jury service – as inconvenient as it can be – is one of the foundations of our democracy. The vote or votes you cast as a juror are likely among the most important votes of any type you will cast in your life. Jury service is among the highest of civic duties a citizen of this country can perform. But it is hard to do a good job as a juror when so much important information is kept from you and under circumstances where you are bombarded by insurance industry propaganda, sometimes for years, before you ever see the inside of a courtroom. Here are some key concepts potential jurors should be aware of.

1. The Insurance Industry Tampers With Juries

If an attorney were to enter your living room, sit down with you and your family, and explain their side of a case that you were about to sit on as a juror, their conduct would be seen by you, and those whose job it is to policy the ethics of attorneys, as morally reprehensible, and possibly criminal in nature. But that is exactly what the insurance industry and the groups it controls and influences (such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the American Tort Reform Association) do when they enter your home through various media and talk about “jackpot justice,” “tort reform,” and through subtle and not-so-subtle means to attempt to convince you in advance that people whose lives have been involuntarily altered, or their loved ones killed, are somehow taking advantage of the system.

Allstate has a number of ads in this vein. In one ad, the commentator points to the “defendant’s chair.” He proclaims that Allstate will always be there for the defendant … but the message is that you, the prospective juror, should be there for the defendant too. What you aren’t told is that Allstate’s business practice of delaying claims, denying claims, and then vigorously defending claims in court, is the reason that the defendant is sitting in “the defendant’s chair.”

The defendant – like those sitting on the jury who hear the defendant’s case – would rather be going on about his or her life. Most defendants wish that their insurance company had taken care of their moral and financial responsibility to the party that they hurt or killed. Most defendants don’t want to relive the experience in a courtroom. But the insurance industry wishes to inflict the maximum cost and pain on those who seek justice in America’s courts. The industry has successfully infiltrated our hearts and minds for the purpose of enhancing its profits. With the insurance industry, it is all about money. It is never about people.

Find out more about denied or delayed insurance claims.

2. Jurors Are Never Told The Whole Story

Jurors will almost never hear the word “insurance” or be told what role insurance and various insurance coverages play in the dispute that they will be deciding. When a case goes to trial, there is almost always insurance behind it. If it is a dog bite case, a homeowners insurance policy is paying for the defense and will pay for any damages awarded. If it is a slip-and-fall or trip-and-fall case, homeowners or similar premises liability type of coverage is paying for the defense (the attorneys, the expert witnesses, etc.) and will pay the damages that are awarded. In Alaska, one must have insurance to operate an automobile. That insurance is funding the defense costs that are incurred. But as a juror, you won’t hear a word about this. See, Poulin v. Zartman, 548 P.2d 1299, 1300 (Alaska 1976); Alaska R. Evid. 411.

If the person making the claim has had some of their medical bills paid by their automobile medical payments insurance or their health care plan, they will have to repay those sums out of any jury verdict the plaintiff receives. This is called “subrogation.” The same applies if they are hurt on the job and have received workers’ compensation benefits. See AS 23.30.015(g) and McCarter v. Alaska Nat. Ins. Co., 883 P.2d 986 (Alaska 1994).

It can be worse than the paragraph above suggests. After a case decided by the Alaska Supreme Court, Ruggles ex. rel. Estate of Mayer v. Grow, 984 P.2d 509 (Alaska 1999), if the person making the claim has automobile medical payments coverage, and that coverage pays some or all of the injured person’s bills, the claimant’s auto medical payment insurance carrier now has the right to claim that it “owns” that part of the case. The plaintiff can’t ask the jury to make an award for medical bills. Meanwhile, the injured person’s insurance company either cuts a sweetheart deal with the defendant’s insurer, or is already in an intercompany arbitration pact that allows it to be repaid directly, cheaply and efficiently. And as a surprise to no one, the injured person is left fighting Goliath in court on their own.

Jurors won’t be told that pain, suffering and inconvenience awards have been statutorily capped by the legislature and that those caps have been affirmed by the Supreme Court. In regular cases, those caps are $400,000 or, if the injury is serious enough, $1 million. In the medical negligence arena, no matter how much harm a physician has done to a life, these kinds of damages are capped at $250,000. In wrongful death cases, the grief, sorrow, and personal loss kinds of damages are capped at $400,000 for all claimants, no matter how many there are. See AS 09.17.010, AS 09.55.549, Evans ex. rel. Kutch v. State, 56 P.3d 1046 (Alaska 2002); L. D. G., Inc. v. Brown, 211 P.3d 1110 (Alaska 2009); and North Slope Borough v. Brower, 215 P.3d 308 (Alaska 2009). Under Alaska law, though these caps constrain what you can do in delivering a just verdict, the court will never tell you about them. Kodiak Island Borough v. Roe, 63 P.3d 1009 (Alaska 2003).

Punitive damages are intended to punish, not compensate. Juries are allowed to award punitive damages only in cases where the Defendant’s conduct is exceptionally bad. But jurors won’t be told that 50 percent of any punitive damage award that the jury might make will go to the state of Alaska and that the 50 percent retained by the Plaintiff is subject to federal income taxation. Jurors won’t be told that punitive damages, like compensatory damages, are statutorily capped in a variety of ways. The legislature, for reasons that are hard to understand, has decided to give even the worst acting defendants these protections. But jurors won’t be told about these rules before their verdict is rendered. See AS 9.17.020(f), (h), and (j) as well as Reust v. Alaska Petroleum Contractors, Inc., 127 P.3d 807 (Alaska 2005).

3. Fair And Just Compensation Will Never Hurt The Person “In the Defendant’s Chair”

Because virtually all injury and death cases that go to trial are covered by insurance and because insurance companies have a duty to solve, adjust, and settle these claims within the policy limits or be responsible for the full judgment eventually entered (even if bigger than the policy limits), nothing you do as a juror to fairly compensate the injured party, or the decedent’s family, will impose an economic burden on the person in “the defendant’s chair.”

4. If The Plaintiff Loses, The Plaintiff Must Pay Attorney’s Fees And Costs

If the defendant loses, the defendant’s insurance company picks up this burden under its policy. But if the claimant loses their case in court, or fails to beat a low-ball offer made by the defense in the form of an “offer of judgment” under Rule 68, the plaintiff will end up saddled with somewhere between 30 percent and 75 percent of the fees the insurance company paid the defense lawyer to defend the case. See Alaska R. Civ. P. 68, 79, and 82, as well as the cases interpreting those rules. These awards against the losing claimant/plaintiff are always tens of thousands of dollars and can easily be well over $100,000. See, for example, Hillman v. Nationwide Mut. Fire Ins. Co., 855 P.2d 1321, 1327 (Alaska 1983); AS 09.60.010.

Find out more about seeking accident injury compensation.

Contact Us

For more information about things every juror should know, contact attorney Michael J. Schneider in Anchorage, Alaska. Call 907-290-7314.