John Durkin tried a motor vehicle case over the last couple of weeks and ended up with a $147,000+ verdict. I got to talk to the jury afterwards, and one of the jurors had a good question. He saw that we had sued a man and the man’s employer. He asked why we sued both, and why the insurance company was not listed anywhere.
When we file a personal injury lawsuit, we are required to include anyone who had a part in causing the injury, or who might be obligated to pay for damages. This is simply a matter of fairness—we want the people who did the wrong to be responsible for the damages.
In John’s case, our client had been hit from behind while legally stopped for traffic on the highway. So naturally we had to sue the man who hit our client, because the man caused the collision.
But there is a rule in Washington law that says if you hurt someone while you are working, your employer is responsible for your actions. In John’s case, the man who caused the collision was on the job, so we had to include the man’s employer in the lawsuit. The employer was also the owner of the vehicle the man was driving and carried the insurance for the vehicle. Both the man and his employer were ultimately held responsible for our client’s injuries and damages.
But why didn’t we sue the insurance company? Simply put, because the insurance company did not cause the collision. There are times when we do sue insurance companies, but those are instances where the insurance company has breached its insurance contract or acted in bad faith. In those cases, the insurance company’s direct action caused damage, so it is appropriate to include them in the lawsuit. In a motor vehicle case, the insurance company usually has not done anything to directly cause our client’s injuries, so the insurance company is not named in the lawsuit.
Another reason the insurance company does not get named in a motor vehicle lawsuit is because evidence of insurance is not admissible in court. The reason for this is we don’t want a judicial system that produces different results based on how rich or poor a defendant may be. Because our society strongly believes in the equality of every citizen, we want all people to take responsibility for their actions, no matter what income or assets they may have.
Just because the insurance company is not named as a party does not mean they are not involved in the lawsuit. The insurance company chooses and pays for the defense attorney who represents the at-fault driver at trial. The defense attorney reports back to the insurance adjuster and the adjuster keeps close tabs on the case. Ultimately, the insurance company pays the verdict because it has a contractual obligation to its insured to do so. In the end, the money comes from the right place and gets paid according to the court’s orders.