Generally, if an injury claim needs to be tried to a jury in Minnesota, the jurors are not told that the Defendant (alleged at fault party) has liability insurance coverage that may be available to cover any damages that may be awarded to the injured party (Plaintiff). This rule arises from Minn. Stat. 548.251, the Collateral Source Statute. Collateral sources, under subdivision 2 of the statute, include:
[H]ealth, accident and sickness, or automobile accident insurance or liability insurance that provides health benefits or income disability coverage; except life insurance benefits available to the plaintiff, whether purchased by the plaintiff or provided by others, payments made pursuant to the United States Social Security Act, or pension payments.
Furthermore, if the Defendant is insured, that person’s insurance company has usually provided the Defendant with an attorney at no cost. However, the jury is not told these facts about Defendant’s defense.
However, when the jury is being selected, the Plaintiff can request that pursuant to Rule 123 of the General Rules of Practice for District Courts, that the judge ask the jurors whether any of them have any interest as policyholders, stockholders, officers, agents or otherwise in [insert name of Defendant’s insurance company]. The insurance company, however, cannot be referred to by the attorneys or the judge as Defendant’s insurer and the jury is not to be informed that the company is interested in the case.
In an uninsured motorist or underinsured motorist case the involvement of an insurer is obviously not hidden from the jury because the injured party has a direct action or claim against his or her own insurer.
The Minnesota rules involving the non-disclosure of underlying liability insurance coverage differ from the laws of Wisconsin, where an injured party can name the at-fault party as a Defendant in a lawsuit, as well as that person’s personal automobile insurer as a Defendant. Insurance involvement is not hidden from the jurors.
It remains to be seen whether Minnesota law will eventually be changed to so as to allow references at trial to the existence of liability insurance covering potential jury damage awards.
If you have questions regarding Minnesota or Wisconsin trial practice and procedure, do not hesitate to contact Richard O’Dea of the O’Dea Law Firm.