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.
Summary and Explanation
Federal Rule of Evidence 411, part of the United States Federal Rules of Evidence, addresses the admissibility of evidence regarding liability insurance in court proceedings. This rule is particularly significant in civil cases.
The main aspects of Rule 411 are:
- Exclusion of Liability Insurance Evidence:
- General Prohibition: The rule prohibits the use of evidence that a person was or was not insured against liability to prove whether the person acted negligently or otherwise wrongfully. The idea is to avoid the prejudicial impact such evidence might have, as jurors might assume that a person with insurance is more likely to have been negligent or that they can afford to pay damages.
- Avoiding Prejudice: The exclusion is based on the concern that knowledge of liability insurance could influence a jury’s decision-making, either by implying fault or by impacting judgments about damages.
- Exceptions to the Exclusion:
- Permitted Uses: Evidence of liability insurance can be admissible for other purposes, such as proving a witness’s bias or prejudice, proving agency, ownership, or control, or disproving a contention of undue delay.
- Contextual Use: For example, if an insurance company representative is a witness, evidence of the insurance coverage could be relevant to show the witness’s potential bias.
- Application in Legal Proceedings:
- While Rule 411 is mostly applicable in civil cases, its principles can also be relevant in criminal cases under certain circumstances.
Federal Rule of Evidence 411 excludes evidence of liability insurance from being used to prove negligence or wrongful action in a legal case. This is to prevent jury bias based on the presence or absence of insurance. However, such evidence may be admissible for other purposes, like demonstrating a witness’s bias or establishing ownership or control, where the fact of insurance is relevant to an issue in the case.
(Pub. L. 93–595, §1, Jan. 2, 1975, 88 Stat. 1933; Mar. 2, 1987, eff. Oct. 1, 1987; Apr. 26, 2011, eff. Dec. 1, 2011.)
Notes of Advisory Committee on Proposed Rules
The courts have with substantial unanimity rejected evidence of liability insurance for the purpose of proving fault, and absence of liability insurance as proof of lack of fault. At best the inference of fault from the fact of insurance coverage is a tenuous one, as is its converse. More important, no doubt, has been the feeling that knowledge of the presence or absence of liability insurance would induce juries to decide cases on improper grounds. McCormick §168; Annot., 4 A.L.R.2d 761. The rule is drafted in broad terms so as to include contributory negligence or other fault of a plaintiff as well as fault of a defendant.
The second sentence points out the limits of the rule, using well established illustrations. Id.
For similar rules see Uniform Rule 54; California Evidence Code §1155; Kansas Code of Civil Procedure §60–454; New Jersey Evidence Rule 54.
Notes of Advisory Committee on Rules—1987 Amendment
The amendment is technical. No substantive change is intended.
Committee Notes on Rules—2011 Amendment
The language of Rule 411 has been amended as part of the general restyling of the Evidence Rules to make them more easily understood and to make style and terminology consistent throughout the rules. These changes are intended to be stylistic only. There is no intent to change any result in any ruling on evidence admissibility.
Rule 411 previously provided that evidence was not excluded if offered for a purpose not explicitly prohibited by the Rule. To improve the language of the Rule, it now provides that the court may admit evidence if offered for a permissible purpose. There is no intent to change the process for admitting evidence covered by the Rule. It remains the case that if offered for an impermissible purpose, it must be excluded, and if offered for a purpose not barred by the Rule, its admissibility remains governed by the general principles of Rules 402, 403, 801, etc.