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Fairbanks, Alaska

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Ward Merdes
Ward Merdes
Attorney • (866) 452-3741

Insurance Companies Beg for Juries

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Insurance companies claim to fear juries – alleging that they are “out of control.” At the same time, insurance companies insist on juries (instead of judges) in every case. Why is that? Of course, it’s because juries believe insurance company rhetoric – that there is a “lawsuit crisis” and give tiny little verdicts.

There is no lawsuit crisis. Insurance companies love juries. Actions speak louder than words.

I’ve had enough. Talk radio hosts drone on about a “lawsuit crisis” – bashing lawyers who represent injured Americans. They harp on and on about “out of control juries” and “outrageous verdicts from stupid jurors.” In addition to being simply wrong – you should know that insurance companies demand a “jury trial” in EVERY case brought in Alaska. Now, why is that? What reason could insurance companies have for supporting Rush’s sniping at “outrageous jury verdicts” while at the same time insisting that they get a “jury trial” in EVERY case?

Hmmmmmm. Something smells bad. Read on.

Alaska’s constitution allows either party to a lawsuit to demand a jury. Otherwise, your case will be decided by a judge. You’d think that insurance companies – complaining bitterly about “out of control” jury verdicts, would NEVER ask for a “jury trial.” You’d think that insurance companies would genuinely fear juries.

You’d be wrong.

Instead of fearing juries, insurance companies love juries. Insurance companies insist on a “jury trial” in EVERY lawsuit they defend in Alaska. Insurance companies instruct their attorneys to demand a “jury trial.” In fact, one of the quickest ways for an attorney to get sacked by an insurance company is to forget to file a “jury demand” in EVERY case.

Why is that?

Could it be that insurance companies are talking-the-talk, but failing to walk-the-walk? Could it be that insurance companies are trying to play both sides of this issue? Could it be that they are simply lying to you?

You decide. The next time you hear about outrageous jury verdicts driving up insurance rates, phone your local courthouse and talk to the Clerk of Court. Ask the Clerk of Court if insurance defense attorneys demand jury trials in all cases. You might be surprised to learn that the answer is an unequivocal “Yes.”

Now, think a little further. Consider what this duplicity means. With gigantic advertising budgets, insurance companies try very hard to convince you that “Juries are out of control.” They want to influence you in the jury box. And, they are successful: Some of you believe it. At the same time, do you really think that an insurance company would place itself in front of a jury if it wasn’t sure that juries (at least in Alaska) give far less than a judge would give? Remember, insurance companies (most of them) are commercial. They owe an obligation to their stock holders to maximize profits. They are obligated to seek juries only when they are sure that they will make more money by seeking juries.

Welcome to the jury pool. You’re a small fish. Guess what is going on with that shark chasing you? (Hint: It’s either chasing you like a good neighbor, or insisting that you’re in really good hands…)

As a humorous aside, I heard a story about a recently-elected Republican Alaskan Legislator who had the brilliant idea of stripping the “right to a jury trial” in cases against the State of Alaska. He was convinced that he could save the State a ton of money by having judges decide claims against the State. After all, he parroted: “Juries are out of control and give huge verdicts.”

Yet, wWhen he learned that the Alaska Academy of Trial Lawyers supported his idea, he quickly (and quietly) shelved it. Hmmmmmm. Do you think somebody from the insurance industry told him the truth? Odd that we didn’t hear about that one in the media, isn’t it?