It has long been the general rule in Florida that no reference be made to the wealth or poverty of a party to a personal injury lawsuit. The idea is to prevent juries from favoring the poor over the wealthy, and rendering verdicts based soley upon one side’s ability to pay. In negligence trials, the jury is not permitted to know that the defendant has insurance, or the amount of coverage available. In many trials, the defendant who sits before the jury is represented by an attorney who has been appointed and paid for by their own insurance company. The jury will make their own conclusions about the defendant throughout the trial, which may include incorrect impressions about their ability to pay a large verdict despite instruction from the Judge to the contrary.
Many plaintiff attorneys respresenting personal injury victims who have far fewer financial resources to fight for their rights find it would be helpful if the rule provided for some transparency in cases about who will actually pay the verdict. Many juries do not want to burden defendants with significant financial penalties if they hear that they have families, children and other personal responsibilities, no matter how serious there negligence in a particular case. There have been cases clearly justifying this rule, such as one instance where the plaintiff’s attorney argued in closing that the defendant was a “multimillion dollar corporation” that was trying to “squash the plaintiff like a bug.” Eichelkraut v. Kash N’ Karry Food Stores, Inc., 644 So.2d 90. Even if this were true, statements like this a more prejudicial than helpful to the jury’s task of administering justice. The hope is that juries will follow the very clear instrcutions of the Judge in each case – to fairly value the damages they award without any consideration of whether the defendant(or their undisclosed insurance company) can pay or not.