New York Courts Skeptical of Insurers Seeking to Hide Coverage Analysis as Privileged

Alexander H. Berman, Robyn L. Michaelson, and Justin F. Lavella

One of the most basic discovery requests in insurance coverage litigation is for the insurer’s claims-handling documents and coverage analysis. A policyholder suing for insurance coverage is entitled to understand the insurer’s pre-denial coverage analysis, which is after all one of the core business functions of an insurance company along with marketing and selling policies.

Simply put, an insured must be allowed access to all documents held by the insurer, including communications and claim files that might speak to why the insurer denied the claim. In recent years, however, insurers have begun to involve both in-house and outside counsel in these deliberations, and have consequently asserted the protections of the attorney-client privilege and the work product doctrine to shield these critical business documents from discovery.

Fortunately, New York courts are developing a body of case law that properly treats such communications as discoverable. When an insurer communicates with counsel to assist in determining whether a claim is covered in the first instance, such communications are made primarily in furtherance of the insurer’s business function, as opposed to legal advice, and therefore are not immune from discovery. Any resulting memoranda simply reflects the same work that claims handlers have been performing since the establishment of the insurance industry. That the analysis was undertaken by an attorney rather than a non-attorney has no significance in the nature and purpose of the work being performed and the discoverability of the resulting analysis and documents. Continue reading “New York Courts Skeptical of Insurers Seeking to Hide Coverage Analysis as Privileged”

Don’t Let Insurers Use Attorney-Client Privilege to Shield Claims Handling Documents

James R. Murray, Jared Zola and Omid Safa

Murray, James R. Zola, Jared Safa, OmidUpon receiving an insurance claim from its policyholder, an insurer is obligated to promptly and reasonably investigate, adjust, and determine whether to pay a claim. Those are fundamental aspects of an insurer’s business that arise with respect to every claim. Reports by insurance investigators or adjusters, prepared during the processing of a claim, are discoverable as made in the regular course of the insurer’s business.

Insurers frequently allege that attorneys working for the insurers perform or assist with the claim investigation or adjustment and then assert privilege in an effort to avoid producing such reports during litigation. Policyholders should be wary of any such assertion and consider case law from across the country compelling insurers to produce claims handling documents (and related testimony) generated by or in connection with insurer coverage counsel. Many courts hold that the decision to have lawyers undertake or be involved in basic claims handling functions does not imbue this business task with privilege, and protection from discovery. Thus, communications among these attorney claims handlers, independent claims personnel, and insurers about the results of their claim handling activities should not be cloaked in privilege. Continue reading “Don’t Let Insurers Use Attorney-Client Privilege to Shield Claims Handling Documents”