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Who’s Afraid of a Jury of Your Peers?

As it turns out, the answer is, not suprisingly, insurance companies and those corporations that harm or injure you.  How do we know this?  Let me explain.

Over the last few years, insurance companies and corporate defendants have ramped up their efforts to “transfer venue.”  Venue, in basic terms, is the location where a suit is filed.  If I file a case for my client in the Circuit Court of Clarke County, Alabama, the venue is Clarke County.  Transferring venue means to transfer the case to a county of the defendant’s choice.  These insurance companies and corporations try to do this by claiming that the county you filed your lawsuit in is the wrong county according to Alabama’s venue laws.

We lawyers are bad about explaining things in plain English, so let me try with an example.  Let’s assume you insure your home through an insurance company located in Birmingham, Alabama.  Your home is located in Clarke County.  Let’s also assume that you have wind or fire damage to your home and that you make a claim for the damage.  Unfortunately, some bean counter in Birmingham denies your claim for a reason that is wrong.  You then have to consult an attorney and file a lawsuit.

Common sense would tell you that you can file suit in Clarke County.  After all, you live there, you paid your premiums from there, and your home which the insurance company covered is located there.  Your common sense would be wrong.

As a result of the ramped up efforts of insurance companies and corporations to transfer venue, these companies have convinced the Alabama Supreme Court that simply because the decision to deny your claim was made in Birmingham, then the only proper venue for your case is Birmingham.   This was the result of the Court’s recent decision in a case involving Guarantee Insurance Company.  In that case, the counties involved were different, but the result was the same.

Some of the Alabama Supreme Court justices did not agree with the opinion, and they dissented.  I agree with them.    Seriously, why should you have to travel to Birmingham or Montgomery, or even out of state to take on an insurance company that has denied your claim?  Why are they so afraid of defending themselves in the same county in which they insured your house?  I’d ask the same questions for cases involving defective products.  If the company sends you the product to your home and it injures you because it is defective, why should you have to go to them?  Yet, that is exactly what is happening.

We are entitled to a jury of our peers.  As the United States Supreme Court said long ago:

The right to a trial by jury is guaranteed….. The very idea of a jury is a body of men composed of the peers or equals of the person whose rights it is selected … to determine … and is the grand bulwark of his liberties….

These companies want to deny you these rights.  When they deny your hurricane claim in Mobile County, they don’t want to face the people of Mobile County.  The law should not allow them to do so.

Edwin Lamberth

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