Trial Secret #1 (Pitfalls Of A Mislead Jury In Personal Injury Trials)
Since any resident of North Carolina who is over the age of 18, and not a convicted felon may serve as a juror, we thought it might be helpful to understand some of the "hidden" truths about our civil justice system. Often, powerful interests like the government and multi-billion dollar insurance companies do not want jurors to know and understand the truth about how the system really works. Let's start with Trial Secret # 1 and whether the victim of personal injury case has already received any money.
THE PLAINTIFF HAS ALREADY RECEIVED COMPENSATION FOR HIS INJURIES AND THIS LAWSUIT IS THE VICTIM'S UNFAIR EFFORT TO COLLECT TWICE FOR THE SAME INJURY.
For personal injury cases in North Carolina the victim must establish two things:
1. The wreck was the fault of the Defendant
2. The types of harms and losses suffered by the victim (also known as the Plaintiff)
We generally do not handle injury claims unless the Defendant has sufficient liability insurance to cover the victim's injuries and expenses. By law, the jury is not allowed to know the amount of insurance coverage that is available, or that coverage even exists. In my opinion, this is fundamentally unfair because many jurors incorrectly believe that either the victim has already recovered from the insurance company, or that the Defendant will be having to pay the verdict out of his or her own pocket. Both assumptions are almost always false, and this myth is perpetuated by insurance companies and their lawyers.
Often, when the Defendant knows he is at fault for causing a wreck with injuries, the liability insurance company will pay for the victim's property damage to his vehicle early in the process. Then, the insurance company often refused to pay anything for the victim's personal harms and losses, or such a small token amount that the victim is forced to hire an attorney to receive fair compensation. The defense attorney, hired and paid for by the insurance company for the Defendant, then comes to court and points at the Defendant suggesting that the jury's verdict is coming out of the Defendant's own bank account. This is false and misleading, since the verdict will actually be paid by the Defendant's car insurance, up to the policy limits. When a jury decides a case determining the amount of fair compensation they should not buy into this myth, and they should realize that their verdict will be the only money the victim receives for his or her injuries. They are not being paid twice.
Trial Secret #2 (Medicare May Seek Reimbursement For Medical Bills Of A Victim)
If the victim in a personal injury case is fortunate enough to be covered by Medicare, Medicaid, and many self funded insurance policies, those plans often seek reimbursement for the medical bills they have paid on behalf of the victim out of the verdict or settlement amount. For example, if Medicare has paid $15,000.00 in hospital and physician charges for injuries suffered in an automobile wreck, the Plaintiff's attorney will be notified to reimburse the government. So, if the jury's verdict is $50,000.00, Medicare receives their reimbursement out of that amount before the Plaintiff receives any direct personal benefit. Of course, the Plaintiff must also pay attorney fees and costs of the litigation out of the $50,000.00 verdict amount. As a result, if the dollar amount of the medical bills is very high, the Plaintiff often receives very little personal benefit from the jury verdict unless the verdict amount is sufficient to take into account the attorney's fees, costs of litigation, and reimbursement to Medicare and others that must come "off the top" before the Plaintiff actually receives any money.
Trail Secret #3 (Negligent Doctors Like The Jury System)
It is quite common for even the most obvious cases of medical malpractice to go to trial. Since we trust physicians with our very lives, we have a hard time believing that they can be careless or fail to use their best judgment. Despite the fact that all people are supposed to be treated equally under the law, doctors are often given the benefit of the doubt by jurors. This is regrettable, because sometimes the patients lose clearly meritorious cases. We hold good drivers responsible for running red lights, and we should hold good doctors accountable if they harm their patients. The law is designed to protect the injured victim, not the professional whether it is a physician, lawyer, accountant, etc. So, when the good surgeon mistakenly severs the wrong internal organ during surgery he should pay for all the harms and losses to his patient.