After An Automobile Accident Who Do I Sue: The At-Fault Driver Or Their Insurance Company?
This is often a source of confusion for those involved in automobile accidents. If you have been injured due to the fault of another driver:
- a claim is generally opened with that person's insurance company.
- typically there will be a demand for settlement and negotiation with that insurance company,
- and some if that process is not successful a lawsuit is the next step.
The purpose of filing a lawsuit is to set the wheels in motion for, ultimately, a trial on the merits, in which a jury or a judge will be asked to determine fair compensation for your case. The proper party in that lawsuit is the other at-fault driver, not their insurance company. This seems counterintuitive to many people. If the other side's insurance company is responsible for the payment of any damages, they should just be sued directly- right? Actually, the opposite is true. This rule harkens back to a time before mandatory insurance provisions were enacted throughout the country. In the past, there was a feeling that if the existence of insurance was disclosed to a jury, it was extraordinary prejudicial. The existence of insurance, logically, is not related to fault or damages. The prevailing view was that the jurors could not be trusted not to award excessive compensation because they believed it would be covered by insurance, and not paid by the defendant directly. This rule now seems dated at best and almost parochial at worst. But it exists. In fact, if the word insurance is even mentioned in court, it is grounds for a mistrial. Any evidence that the defendant had insurance at the time of the loss, or the insurance would actually be the one paying any damages awarded, is strictly excluded from trial.
Certainly, in Maryland in 2019, anybody that owns and drives a car knows that you have to have insurance. Presumably, they would surmise the same about their other fellow drivers on the road, so that the idea that only some drivers might have car insurance seems naive. Nevertheless, it is still a hard-and-fast rule of evidence. Some insurance defense company lawyers take this rule of evidence to an extreme level and suggest to a jury than any money they award is actually being awarded and payable by their client- when they know that's not the case.