NOVEMBER 2015 BAD FAITH CASES: INSUREDS’ COUNSEL COULD BE DEPOSED ON COMMUNICATIONS WITH INSURER’S ADJUSTER DURING PRE-SUIT CLAIMS HANDLING NEGOTIATIONS (Philadelphia Federal)

In Adeniyi-Jones v. State Farm Mutual Auto Insurance Company, the insureds brought an action against their insurer, alleging breach of contract as well as bad faith on the part of the insurer in negotiating regarding a claim for underinsured motorist benefits. The insurer moved to compel the deposition of counsel for the insureds, while the insureds countered with a motion for a protective order.

The insurer sought to depose counsel for the insureds regarding “discussions that she had with [the insurer’s] claims adjuster concerning the [insureds’] insurance claims before filing this lawsuit.” The insurer argued that these conversations concerned central factual issues that were relevant in determining whether the insurer acted in bad faith in negotiating settlement of the insurance claim.

The insurer noted that in support of their bad faith claim, the insureds alleged that the insurer failed to request a statement under oath or a medical examination of one of the insureds. The insurer argued that it acted reasonably pursuant to an oral agreement with the insureds’ counsel, however, that counsel would provide the insurer with information that would render a statement under oath and medical examination unnecessary. The court stated that the existence of this oral agreement was central to both the bad faith claim and defense of the claim, and acknowledged that a deposition of counsel is appropriate where “the attorney’s conduct itself is the basis of a claim or defense, [and] there is little doubt that the attorney may be examined as any other witness.”

Because counsel for the insureds had factual information regarding the agreement that was only available from her, the court found that the insureds could not meet their burden of showing that “the information is so readily available from other sources that an order compelling [counsel’s] deposition would be oppressive.”

Further, the court found that harm to the insureds’ representational rights would be minimal, as the communications at issue were not protected by the attorney-client privilege. Accordingly, the court granted the insurer’s motion and held that the insurer may depose the insureds’ counsel “limited to her communications with [the insurer] regarding the [insureds’] pre-litigation insurance claim.” The insureds’ motion for a protective order was denied.

Date of Decision: October 21, 2015

Adeniyi-Jones v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Co., CIVIL ACTION NO. 14-7101, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 142822 (E.D. Pa. October 21, 2015) (Bartle III, J.)