EvidenceProf Blog

Editor: Colin Miller
Univ. of South Carolina School of Law

Friday, October 1, 2021

Western District of Wisconsin Finds Insurance Evidence Admissible Despite Rule 411

Federal Rule of Evidence 411 provides that

Evidence that a person was or was not insured against liability is not admissible to prove whether the person acted negligently or otherwise wrongfully. But the court may admit this evidence for another purpose, such as proving a witness’s bias or prejudice or proving agency, ownership, or control.

As the Rule makes clear, evidence of liability insurance case be admissible for purposes "such as proving a witness’s bias or prejudice or proving agency, ownership, or control." In other words, while purposes such as "proving agency, ownership, or control" are illustrative, not exhaustive. For an example of another permissible purpose, consider the recent opinion of the United States District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin in Burress and Burress v. Mr. G & G Trucking, LLC, et al., 2021 WL 4472799 (W.D. Wis. 2021).

In Burress, Jared Burress and Megan Burress sued defendants Mr. G&G Trucking, LLC, Guido F. Rivadeneria, and Liosbany Rafael Alcolea Aguilera for injuries they sustained in a car accident. In the case, the court addressed a Rule 411 issue as follows:

Plaintiffs contend that they should be allowed to present evidence of defendants’ insurance. Plaintiffs acknowledge that evidence of insurance is inadmissible to prove negligence under Federal Rule of Evidence 411, but they plan to offer it for another purpose. Plaintiffs say that Victor Guillen testified-as a corporate representative for Mr. G & G Trucking (MGGT)-that he believed Aguilera was a suitable driver because “the insurance company said he was fine.”...Plaintiffs want to show that Guillen relied on a third party's determination of Aguilera's fitness to drive instead of doing his own due diligence.

Defendants argue that evidence of the insurance policy is inadmissible because plaintiffs don't plan to offer it for one of the reasons enumerated in Rule 411 to demonstrate “proof of agency, ownership, or control, or bias or prejudice of a witness.” Fed. R. Evid. 411. But “[t]he situations listed in the rule are illustrative rather than exhaustive.”...So the court will grant plaintiffs’ motion. Plaintiffs may introduce evidence that Guillen relied on the insurance company's determination of Aguilera's fitness to drive. But the court will instruct the jury they should not consider whether any party has insurance coverage for losses related to the accident.



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