The Fort Worth Court of Appeals issued an opinion on November 15, 2018, that is worthy reading for lawyers handling uninsured / underinsured motorist coverage (UIM). The case is styled, William Blevins v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company.
This case is an appeal from a trial by Blevins against State Farm wherein the jury ruled in favor of State Farm. The opinion is lengthy and the majority of it deals with whether the decision by the jury was justified in light of the evidence. What is dealt with here is the ruling by the court to not allow in evidence regarding the UIM coverage.
Blevins argued the trial Judge erred by declining to allow testimony about Blevin’s UIM coverage.
Both these issues are reviewed under the abuse of discretion standard. In other words, that the court acted in an arbitrary or unreasonable manner or without reference to any guiding rules and principles when refusing Blevins requests.
While it is true that a plaintiff must prove the existence of UIM coverage at trial, that reality does not mean that evidence of the UIM coverage limits is admissible.
Here, State Farm and Blevins stipulated that he had such coverage, meaning that Blevins had no need to “prove” it in the sense of introducing the policy itself.
The courts have recognized that it is improper for a jury to know policy limits stating:
One reason for not allowing evidence of the other motorist’s liability limits is to prevent the jury from knowing the threshold over which the UIM carrier may have a contractual obligation to pay. The same reasoning applies to the introduction of UIM policy limit amounts, because the jury’s knowledge of that amount could affect its damages verdict.
For the above reasons the Court did not find fault with the Judge declining to expand on Blevin’s UIM coverage.
This case also discussed the appropriateness of allowing Blevins to issue a trial subpoena for the State Farm representative, which the Judge quashed. Learning why it was okay to not allow that subpoena is also good reading for the Insurance Law Attorney.