Qualifying a Georgia Jury – What can you ask them on the topic of Insurance?   Leave a comment

In car wreck cases in Georgia, the jury is not allowed to know whether or how much insurance the defendant has available to satisfy a verdict and judgment against him or her.  However, jurors must be qualified as to whether they are shareholders, officers, directors or employees of the defendant’s insurance carrier, and, when it’s a mutual insurance company such as State Farm, jurors must also be qualified as to whether they or their family members are policy holders of the defendant’s insurance company.

Defendants get testy about this because they believe that the qualification of the jury as to the insurance carrier is a gaping loophole in the law that allows the jury to essentially be told that the defendant has insurance.  In Park v Nichols, 2011 Ga. App. LEXIS 95, (Feb. 15, 2011), the defendant’s Insurer, Nationwide Mutual Fire Insurance Company was mentioned by name four times.  First, the Trial Court pre-qualified the jury as to officers, directors, shareholders, and employers of Nationwide. Next, the Court asked if any members of the panel were policy holders of Nationwide. Then, the Court asked if any jurors were related by blood or marriage to a director, agent, shareholder, or employee of Nationwide.  The defense team moved for a mistrial but the trial court refused.  On appeal, the Georgia Court of Appeals agreed, holding that repeating the name of the insurer is appropriate in questioning the prospective jurors about their potential financial interest in the outcome of the case. 

These rules essentially choose between the lesser of two evils. The alternative would be to allow a senior executive of Nationwide to sit on a jury in which one of his customers was being blamed for a wreck. Of course not.

Many defense teams also complain when the plaintiff asks about the employment background of the prospective jurors and specifically asks whether they or their family members work in the insurance industry.  Georgia law permits these questions as well and for good reason.  For example, if a prospective juror has been a Nationwide personal injury adjuster for forty years, the Plaintiff is entitled to know that information and to factor it in to her preemptive strikes.  See Norfolk vs. Perkins, 24 Ga App 552 (1997) (holding that prospective juror’s insurance background was a legitimate rationale for plaintiff’s preemptory strike as non-race based rationale).

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