Iowa Court of Appeals Rules No Mistrial for Mention of Insurance During Jury Selection

Posted on: February 10th, 2016

During voir dire of a race discrimination trial, a potential juror noted that he was in the insurance business and handled employee benefit insurance for the defendant.  He noted that his company did not provide employee practice liability coverage, but nonetheless viewed it as a conflict of interest.  Another potential  juror noted that his company had been involved in an age discrimination lawsuit and they did have employment practice insurance.   He noted the case settled, and, in his view, would never had proceeded had it not been for the insurance.  During defense counsel’s voir dire, he remarked that there was no employment action liability insurance involved in the case as one of the potential jurors had alluded to.  Plaintiff’s counsel objected to the discussion of insurance status and moved for a mistrial after jury selection.  The court denied the motion.  At the end of the six-day jury trial, Plaintiff requested a curative jury instruction.  The jury returned a verdict in favor of the defendant.  Plaintiff filed a motion for new trial, which the court denied.

On appeal, the Iowa Court of Appeals agreed with the district court.  It noted that prejudice could not be presumed by the reference to insurance and that defense counsel’s statement was not “evidence” and the jury was instructed as such.  The jury had also heard only what it was to assume – that the defendant was not insured.  It noted the policy for excluding insurance evidence is so that a jury will not award a larger verdict against defendant than it otherwise would.  Here, the verdict was in favor of the defendant.  Finally, the court found no prejudice because the potential juror was struck and the jury was adequately instructed not to consider the statements.

Salami v. Von Maur, Inc. et al., No. 14-1603 (Iowa Ct. App. Feb. 10, 2016)

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