Almost every attorney has filed a Motion to Compel regarding discovery. Sure, we’ve won some. Of course, we’ve lost some. And we’ve all gotten the “granted in part and denied in part.” But how many times has your motion to compel been granted in a bad faith case? When has the court ordered your insurer to produce both its “work product” and “attorney-client” privileged material about how your insured’s claim was handled? I know what you’re thinking – “it’ll never happen.” But it does…
More and more courts are realizing that insurers have gone too far for too long. Those same courts are applying laws that hold insurance companies responsible for their improper claims handling procedures. How? Courts are granting plaintiffs’ motions to compel and ordering insurers to turn over their top secret “attorney-client” “work product” “confidential” and, sometimes, “trade secret” materials. So how do you get your hands on the goods? Remember the “time, extra effort and investment” from last week’s blog? Well, we here are a few more examples of how that works.
Our first insightful plaintiff’s attorney started planning his Motion to Compel against Safeco before he even drafted his discovery requests. This attorney researched extensively until he found a case compelling an insurer to produce the kind of materials he needed in his case. The opinion he found included details of the specific discovery requests at issue, and he modeled his own discovery requests after those in the opinion. After serving his discovery requests, he got the usual “work product” and “attorney client” objections, along with a few others that you can expect to see when insurers respond to discovery. Our colleague then filed his Motion to Compel citing, as persuasive authority (and among other things), the case upon which he had modeled his discovery requests. His “merely persuasive” authority consisted of facts and issues so similar to those in his case and presented an analysis so precise that the Judge ordered Safeco to produce a complete and unredacted portion of its claims file.
The Court’s Order compelling production from Safeco explained that in a bad faith case, an insured is entitled to the insurer’s work product and attorney-client material containing information relevant to how the insured’s claim was handled. This information that is discoverable includes the insurer’s internal determination to deny benefits, its evaluation as to how a jury may value the insured’s claim and the insurer’s approach to settlement. The Order also ruled that the materials within the claims file that were generated before the date of Safeco’s denial letter are not protected by either the attorney-client or work product privileges because those materials bear directly on how and why Safeco handled the insured’s claim the way that it did. As such, the Court ordered Safeco to produce, in their entirety, any and all materials from the claims file that are dated up to and including the date of Safeco’s denial letter.
The Judge in our colleague’s case also ordered the production of certain materials after the date of Safeco’s denial letter because they were relevant to the plaintiff’s bad faith claim and were not protected by the attorney-client and work product privileges. This ruling, however, is not one of a kind.
A few weeks ago, Chip mentioned in his blog post, Liberty Mutual Claims Documents Ordered Produced, the similar success of a second plaintiff’s attorney in West Virginia who has a case against Liberty Mutual. The Court Order in that case compelled Liberty Mutual to produce the following: the insurer’s employees’ performance evaluations; the manuals containing explanations and abbreviations and other claims handling procedures; the personnel files of employees who worked on the case, no matter how small their role, including, bonuses, job descriptions, work responsibilities, training, experience on the job, work qualifications/history and any discipline relating to work. Great progress, right?
It gets better.
The Court also ordered Liberty Mutual to:
…disclose the McKenzie [sic] documents, upon which defendant bases its claims handling procedures…and other documents relevant to defendant’s business model of claims handling…
Courts are now forcing insurers to divulge documents and information regarding consulting services that they received for their claims handling practices. Remember, in a bad faith case, how the insurer handled the claim is at the heart of the lawsuit. It only makes sense for the plaintiff to obtain any and all materials regarding the manner in which the adjuster(s) handled the claim. It makes even more sense to obtain information regarding how the company, as a whole, evaluates, implements and provides training for claims handling practices and what consulting services, if any, were used in doing so. If a plaintiff’s attorney is not entitled to such critical discovery, then what’s the point of allowing a plaintiff to file a lawsuit for bad faith? It’s like putting a chef in a kitchen with a stove that doesn’t boil water and an oven with a maximum temperature of 200 degrees.
These attorneys are only two examples of colleagues across the country who are putting their nose to the grindstone and making discovery work in their cases. Keep in mind, though, that these motions are not your “form” motions. Remember that our first plaintiff’s attorney started strategizing and preparing his case to win on a motion to compel discovery from day one. For our colleague in West Virginia, it took five (5) motions to compel to get the order compelling the production of discovery that he was entitled to.
Strategic planning and perseverance were the secret to these attorneys’ success and there is no reason why you can’t succeed in a similar situation. (By the way, wouldn’t you like to know which one of these brilliant attorneys also worked closely with one of the experts we talked about in last week’s blog?)
Bottom line folks: it works, and it can work really well for you too.
Tune in next week for a continued discussion of rulings across the country regarding information that is discoverable in a bad faith lawsuit.