WA Case Update: Evidence of Insurance May Be Admissible in Friendly Lawsuits

From the desk of Kyle D. Riley: Can a trial court instruct a jury that a party has insurance, to explain why a domestic partner is suing another domestic partner in a personal injury case? Read on to see how the Washington Court of Appeals ruled on this issue.

Claims Pointer: Washington’s ER 411 forbids evidence that a person is insured “upon the issue of whether the person acted negligently.” However, the rule allows evidence of insurance “when offered for another purpose.” In this case, the trial court instructed the jury about insurance because the jury appeared confused during jury selection as to why a person would sue their domestic partner concerning a motor vehicle accident. The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s jury instruction because the evidence of insurance was not offered for the purpose of showing negligence.

Terrell v. Hamilton, No. 71955-6-I, Washington Court of Appeal, Division 1 (unpublished).

Paula Terrell was injured when Gordon Hamilton (her boyfriend at the time) slipped on ice, left the roadway, and hit a tree. Terrell filed suit against Hamilton. Later, Terrell and Hamilton were married. The case proceeded to trial. Terrell filed a Motion in Limine to exclude a statement she made to Hamilton’s insurance agent. Hamilton opposed the motion, knowing that use of statement would lead the jury to understand that Hamilton was insured. During jury selection, several jurors brought up insurance without being asked about it. Hamilton followed up by asking whether “they’d like to know if there’s insurance or not?” Several jurors were confused about why a person would sue their spouse for harm caused by the spouse. The missing piece of information that the jury was not aware of was that Hamilton’s accident was covered by his insurance.

The trial court decided to instruct the jury that “there is a third party payor in this situation [the insurance company] and that [Terrell] is having to sue this individual...

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