Fred W. Fickett and Robert D. Stauffer, of Tucson, for appellant.
Moore & Romley, of Phoenix, for appellees.
De Concini, Justice. Udall, C. J., and Stanford, Phelps and La Prade, JJ., concur.
De Concini, Justice.
[73 Ariz. 416] This appeal presents but one question for our determination, i. e., the propriety of asking prospective jurors questions phrased to determine whether they are in any way connected with an insurance company. Usually, such a question would only be propounded by plaintiff's counsel in the type of action where an insurance company might stand behind any liability for which the defendant would be found responsible.
Plaintiff, William S. Dunipace (appellant) as administrator of the estate of Theresa Mendibles, filed a civil action against Jerome P. Martin, then sheriff of Pima county, and his son Thomas C. Martin, a deputy sheriff, alleging in alternative counts that Theresa was killed due to the negligent operation of a county car driven by either the sheriff or his son (appellees). The Great American Indemnity Company, surety on the official bond of the sheriff, was named as a defendant.
[73 Ariz. 417] Before starting voir dire examination, counsel for the plaintiff in the judge's chambers made three requests to the court, (1) that since he had reason to believe that one of the attorneys appearing for the Martins was representing a liability insurance company other than the named defendants which carried the liability insurance on the county car involved in the case, he wished that attorney to disclose the name of such company so he could "interrogate the jury concerning said company". This motion was denied by the court. (2) Counsel for plaintiff next requested the court to rule on the following question, which was to be asked the jury en banc: "Are you, or any of you, ladies and gentlemen, stockholders, directors, officers, or employees, or interested in any insurance company issuing policies against liability for negligence?" The court denied permission to ask the question. (3) The third request was for permission to ask this question: "Do you and your spouse, or either of you, carry liability insurance on your family car?", if previous examination had disclosed that they had a family car. The request was denied. Counsel maintained he was requesting the right to ask such questions solely for the purpose of intelligently exercising his clients' peremptory challenges and not to bring the possibility of insurance before the jury.
The cause of action alleging that the sheriff was driving was dismissed prior to submission of the case to the jury. The surety company on the sheriff's official bond received a favorable ruling on its motion for a directed verdict. The jury returned a 9-3 verdict in favor of the remaining defendants.
Plaintiff's contentions on this appeal are best expressed by the proposition of law supporting his three assignments of error. "Provided counsel acts in good faith, he has the right to question prospective jurors on voir dire respecting their interest in, or connection with, liability insurance companies. Denial of this right is prejudicial error."
There is no question that each party has a right to ascertain on voir dire examination whether jurors have any interest in the case which would influence their verdict. This rule is patent for the reason that ...