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HOFFMAN v. PERRUCCI

October 22, 1953

HOFFMAN et al.
v.
PERRUCCI (HOFFMAN, third-party defendant)



The opinion of the court was delivered by: GANEY

This matter is before the court on the motion of the respondents, American Automobile Insurance Company, Associated Indemnity Corporation and American Associated Insurance Companies, to dismiss a motion which seeks, in addition to equitable relief, the issuance of citations against them. The citations request the respondents to appear and show cause why they should not be adjudged in contempt of court by reason of four advertisements which they inserted in two magazines of wide circulation and of a pamphlet which they distributed *fn1" relating to jury verdicts and the effect thereof upon liability insurance rates and living costs generally.

The motions were filed in an action involving an ordinary automobile accident. Respondents are not parties to the action, are not insurers of any of the parties and are not in any other way connected with the action. In their motion to dismiss, respondents take the position that the advertisements and pamphlet speak for themselves, are directed against excessive verdicts only, are in no way disrespectful or contemptuous, and are within the protection of the constitutional guarantees of free speech and press. There is no controversy as to the facts. The only material disputes are on questions of law as to the legal effect of the advertisements and pamphlet, and the right of the respondents to issue them.

 Each of the four full page advertisements contains a dramatic photograph, occupying more than half the page, which supplied the background or setting for the printed message in the lower portion of the page.

 The picture of the first advertisement shows a guarded closed door of a jury room. The printed message underneath states, in part, as follows:

 Casualty insurance companies have been losing an average of $ 11 on every $ 100 of earned automobile liability premiums. More accidents are partly responsible. So are excessive jury awards, rendered by jurors who feel they can afford to be generous with the 'rich' insurance company's money. Actually, jurors who are responsible for awards in excess of what is just and reasonable are soaking you by raising insurance rates.

 The message of the second advertisement bearing a picture of jurors taking the oath advises as follows:

 But the Juror's Oath demands that jurors decide 'according to * * * the evidence.' Jurors sometimes forget this. Ruled by emotion rather than facts, they arrive at unfounded or excessive awards * * * verdicts occasionally even higher than requested.

 These men and women may be scrupulously honest. But as jurors, they feel in their hearts that the injured person -- although he may have caused the accident -- is entitled to an award.

 Because insurance rates depend on claim costs, these honest jurors cost millions of policyholders, including themselves, countless extra dollars in premiums every year.

 A picture of a woman with a puzzled expression at a store counter paying her grocery bill provides the background for the message of the third advertisement which speaks as follows:

 Yes, Mrs. Jones, you pay for liability and damage suit verdicts whether you are insured or not.

 Next time you serve on a jury, remember this: When you are overly generous with an insurance company's money, you help increase not only your own premiums, but also the cost of every article and service you buy.

 The picture of the fourth and last advertisement depicts a father confessing to his son -- a senior in law school -- about his recent experience as a juror. In part the confession is as follows:

 As a businessman, I knew the woman involved in the trial was legally at fault. She walked into a moving car. But she was a widow with a child to support. And I felt ...


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