Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Discoverability of Claims File Info in First Party Wage Loss Litigation

In the case of Neidich v. Progressive Advanced Ins. Co., No. 17-5375 (E.D. Pa. Aug. 22, 2018 Padova, J.), the court granted, in part, a Plaintiff’s Motion to Compel production of certain entries from the Defendant’s carrier’s claim file that the Defendant had maintained were protected by the attorney work product doctrine.    This case arose out of an automobile accident claim pertaining to a first party wage loss dispute.  

During the course of discovery, the Defendant carrier refused to produce certain materials from its insurance claims file, asserting that the materials were protected by the attorney work product doctrine.   In particular, at issue in this case were the mental impressions and opinions of the claims representative and the carrier’s reserve information.   The court was provided redacted and unredacted copies of the claims file, along with a privilege log, for an in-camera review of the file.  

The court reviewed the parameters of the work product doctrine as set forth under F. R.C.P. 26(b)(3).   Noted that the “temporal trigger for work product protection in this context is the ‘point in its investigation [when] an insurance company’s activity shifts from mere claims evaluation to an anticipation of litigation’.”   See Op. at 3 [citations omitted].  

The court more specifically stated that the party asserting work product protection must demonstrate that it subjectively anticipated litigation, and that the anticipation was objectively reasonable. Id. [citations omitted].  

One issue in this case was point at which it could be considered that the carrier reasonably anticipated litigation.   

In this matter, the carrier stated that it reasonably anticipated litigation when Plaintiff’s counsel contacted the carrier seeking “to discuss and avoid litigation.”   The carrier asserted that the disputed entries in the claims file made after that event should be protected by the work product privilege.  

However, the court in this matter stated that, a lawyer’s mere suggestion of a lawsuit is not enough to make a carrier reasonably anticipate litigation when the carrier’s evaluation of the claims is ongoing.   The court pointed to a case indicating that an insured’s attorney’s threat to file suit did not serve as the trigger for the work product doctrine.  As such, this argument by the carrier was rejected by this court.  

The carrier also argued, in the alternative, that the court should, at a minimum, extend a work product protection to the carrier’s reserve information.   The court in this matter rejected the carrier’s contention that reserves are to be treated as work product on a per se basis.   Accordingly, the court rejected the carrier’s argument that insurance reserves are always prepared in anticipation of litigation and are therefore always  protected as work product.

In this matter, the court ultimately concluded that the carrier had failed to provide relative factual support for its position that the disputed materials concerning reserve information in this particular case were prepared in anticipation of litigation.  As such, the Plaintiff’s Motion to Compel was granted. 

Anyone wishing to review a copy of this decision may click this LINK.  The Court's Order can be viewed HERE.

I send thanks to Attorney Lee Applebaum of the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania law office of Fineman, Krekstein & Harris and writer of the excellent Pennsylvania and New Jersey Insurance Bad Faith Case Law blog, for bringing this case to my attention.   

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