When an insurance company admits fault after being presented with a claim, you would expect to collect the wrongdoer’s full policy. Accepting responsibility is only half of the game. No insurance company pays in settlement more than it must. There are always disputes over what is fair. If there is no agreement, and hopefully there is sufficient insurance coverage to satisfy all the damage you have suffered, a lawsuit follows.
In California personal injury lawsuits, a wrongdoer is named in the complaint as the defendant and responsible party, without reference to his or her insurance company. If your lawsuit goes to trial, the jury will never learn whether the defendant is insured, the amount of coverage or that the insurance adjuster admitted fault. That all remains secret and not admissible in evidence.
During settlement negotiations, mediation and mandatory settlement conferences, insurance defense lawyers will contest liability and the extent of a personal injury to reduce the amount that should be paid to an injured plaintiff to settle a case.
But once a jury trial begins, a capable defense attorney will, with feigned beneficence and in a contrite tone, admit liability, as if they are doing a favor to the plaintiff.
The defense goal is to curry favor for a later argument that the injury is not worthy of substantial payment. I have tried cases where the defense lawyer waited until after jury selection and my opening statement to present a “showboat” act of contrition.
As a practical matter, it is to the plaintiff’s advantage to prove that a defendant caused an injury, especially when it is compelled by the evidence. That adds credibility to the plaintiff’s proof of damages.
One response to a last-minute admission of liability is to call the defendant as an adverse witness and have him or her admit in front of the jury that their answer to the complaint claimed it was not their fault and ask about the denials made in deposition testimony to show that the last minute admission was a tactic and that it took more than a year, or sometimes, two to admit they caused harm.
Some judges preclude such testimony. One way to prevent a “showboat” admission of liability is to insert a claim for punitive damages in the complaint.
A defense attorney is paid by the insurance company to defend the insured and is required to protect all the interests of the defendant. That stops a defense attorney from admitting liability when there is a punitive damage cause of action because punitive damages are not paid by a defendant’s insurance company, but by the wrongdoer. Including a claim for reckless misconduct and punitive damages in the complaint allows plaintiff’s counsel to fully prove the defendant caused the harm that brought the action to trial without a staged admission of liability to gain sympathy for the defendant.
Once the evidence has been presented, a smart plaintiff will dismiss a claim for punitive damages to avoid having a jury hold back on a verdict for compensatory damages and award a substantial verdict for punitive damages, which cannot be collected from the insurance company.
Contact an Experienced Morgan Hill Personal Injury Attorney
Alexander Law Group, LLP attorneys are available to answer questions and share our knowledge of the law and the results of our research and experience. Our goal as personal injury lawyers is to make a difference for our clients. Every day we deal with a range of health and safety issues that most people do not encounter until after an injury occurs. As safety lawyers we are committed to providing our clients and the public with information for safer and healthier living. Call 888-777-1776 or contact us online to schedule a consultation to see how we can help you.