Monday, October 7, 2013

A lesson in civility and careful analysis

A recent Sixth Circuit case, Bennett v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co., emphasizes the importance of both civility and careful analysis. A plaintiff in an insurance case made the unusual argument that when she was thrown on the hood of a car, she was its “occupant,” and she was therefore entitled to her medical expenses. The insurance company’s brief called that argument “ridiculous.” The Sixth Circuit pointed out three reasons not to use such extreme language: common civility, the probability that the statement will alienate the reader, and the persuasiveness of simply laying out the facts for the reader to evaluate. But in Bennett, the most important reason was that the plaintiff’s argument was correct. The insurance policy explicitly defined—“in primary colors”—occupant as someone “in, on, entering or alighting from” the vehicle. Careful analysis of that language might have led State Farm's counsel to be more temperate.


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