By christina Bramlet
two Texas residents are feeling the heat after admittedly torching their home to collect insurance, only to later
renege on their joint promise to repay the
insurer, Texas Farm Bureau Underwriters.
The insurance company filed a lawsuit
on aug. 19 in Jefferson County District
Court against former policyholders Brent
and Corey wise in an effort to recoup the
more than $60,000 it paid on the fire-related claim.
according to the complaint, Texas Farm
Bureau Underwriters issued a policy to
Brent and ambra wise for their property
in Beaumont, Texas. Brent wise allegedly
instructed Corey wise to “burn down his
property” on sept. 6, 2007. Later, the insur-
er paid Brent wise $2,000 for living expens-
es after he claimed to have no involvement
in the arson. In addition, the company paid
him $60,000 in policy benefits.
By marissa alkhazov
so JUs T wHa T do juries think when tasked with evaluating the insurance company as a defendant?
1 insurance companies represent Big,
Bad corporate america
People work for corporations, own stock
in them, buy their products and services—
and have serious concerns about corporate
conduct and the power they possess. Most
people want corporations to thrive and to
continue to produce both jobs and products. Jurors don’t begrudge the corporation
a profit, but making a profit off of the public creates special obligations to the public.
The public wants to be able to trust that
their insurance company will be there for
them when they need it. when an insurance
company is a defendant, a juror will immediately wonder what the insurance company
did wrong and why. The assumption is that
the insurance company is untrustworthy and
has wronged the plaintiff.
2 Premiums Will automatically rise if an
award is made
Many jurors are skeptical that the plaintiff’s
claimed damages are real, and even when
they believe that a plaintiff is damaged, they
may be reluctant to render adequate compensation because they worry that doing
so will raise their own insurance premiums.
3 insurance companies always Deny coverage
everyone has either had a claim denied or
knows someone whose insurance claim was
denied. The story is always a “horror story,”
and the insurance company is the big villain.
4 insurance companies Use Delay as a tactic
Delay, delay, delay. Most jurors have had
experience in making claims of their own
(or hearing the “horror stories” of friends
and family). a common complaint is the
insurance company did not act quickly; the
adjuster did not return phone calls or emails
right away; or the payment of the claim took
months. Most people think that the reason
for the delay is to discourage claimants from
pursuing a claim, to hurt claimant’s cases,
and to keep the money in the insurer’s big,
deep pockets for a longer time.
5 insurance companies thwart Policy-limits
Payments at all costs
Many jurors have policies of their own
and bargain for the amount of coverage
they wish to pay for. Claims professionals
know there is a vast difference between
the value of a claim vs. the amount of
coverage available for a claim. Jurors (and
most plaintiff attorneys) view the policy as
a contract guaranteeing a specific amount
of money for all losses and if not paid,
wonder why the insurer isn’t paying the
amount bargained for; that the failure to
pay full policy limits, in other words, automatically equates to bad faith.
while it is trial counsel’s job to sift
through the jury pool via voir dire, it is
imperative that claims professionals understand what jurors think about insurance companies. Knowing what to expect
at trial is integral to properly investigating a claim, determining value, and
evaluating the risks and rewards of future
litigation. Meanwhile, think of each new
claim as an opportunity to educate a potential juror. NU
marissa alkhazov is director at the Seattle,
Wash.-based law firm of Betts, Patterson &
Mines, where she focuses her practice on
complex litigation and insurance-defense law.
Contact her at email@example.com or