Earlier this month, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals issued a significant opinion in the case of Davis v. Martinez, holding that the identity of a defendant underinsured motorist insurers in a personal injury action may not be concealed from the jury.
In Davis, a Maryland trial court granted a defendant’s motion to conceal the identity of his underinsured motorist insurer, State Farm, at trial. Accordingly, State Farm was not identified and the jury was not informed about the plaintiff’s claim against State Farm. Further, it was never disclosed to the jury who the attorney for State Farm represented.
The trial court’s decision seems surprising considering the previous Maryland Court of Special Appeals decision in King v. State Farm. In King, a trial court ordered that the parties to a personal injury action refrain from identifying the insurer as the defendant.
After trial and on appeal, the Court of Special Appeals reversed the trial court and ordered a new trial, opining that “the court’s ruling, concealing [the insurer’s] identity and role as the party defendant, infringed on the role of the jury.”
The questions remains, however, given the decision in King, how did the trial court in Davis end up issuing the decision to conceal the identity of State Farm from the jury. The answer lies in the party that brought the motion in the first place.
In Davis, the motion was made by the negligent driver defendant, who contended that he would be prejudiced if State Farm was identified as his underinsured motorist insurer because the jury would be more inclined to award a large verdict, believing the deep-pocketed State Farm would cover any judgment.
The driver defendant argued that King was distinguishable because, in that case, the insurer was the sole defendant, and therefore no other defendants would be prejudiced by the identification. As stated above, the trial court agreed with this rationale and granted the motion to conceal State Farms identity.
On appeal, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals disagreed with the trial court’s reasoning, ultimately holding that the identity of an insurance carrier may not be concealed when it is a party, regardless of whether there are other defendants or not. In so holding, the Court essentially reiterated its analysis from King, stating that “hiding the existence of State Farm created a ‘charade’ at trial risking the ‘integrity of the jury system.’”
As evidenced by the trial court’s order underlying Davis, courts don’t always make the correct decision when it comes to contested issues. Further, it is clear that such decisions can have substantial impact on the outcome of any particular case.
The attorneys of Edward Phillip Amourigs have extensive experience representing individuals who have been injured in car accidents at all stages of litigation, including trial, and, if necessary, on appeal. If you or someone you know has been injured by the negligence of another, contact our attorneys today.