Insurer’s Attempt To Shield Documents From Discovery Through Assertion Of The Mediation Privilege And A Relevancy Objection Is Unavailing

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In a breach of contract and bad faith case emanating from an insurer’s refusal to settle an underlying case within policy limits, the insurer was unsuccessful in its attempt to protect documents from discovery by assertion of a “mediation privilege” and another set of documents related to reinsurance information via a relevancy objection. The court ruled that the documents did not qualify as “mediation documents” because the insurer was not a party to the underlying litigation, which was a “requirement under the plain meaning of the definition of ‘mediation document.’” The documents also did not qualify as “mediation communications” because they involved statements “made by a person present at the mediation outside the mediation session.” As such, in order to qualify, the communications must have either been made by the mediator, or to the mediator. They were not. Another set of documents containing statements “which were made by a person who may have been present at the mediation session to someone (not the mediator) outside the mediation session” also did not qualify for protection.

With regard to the reinsurance documents, the court stated that there is “no absolute exclusion of reinsurance information.” Rather, discovery of such information may be allowed in the context of claims for bad faith involving an insurer’s failure to settle in order to “equalize the knowledge of both parties and give the plaintiff ‘assurance that there can be recovery in the event of a favorable verdict to justify the time, effort and expense of preparing for trial.’” The fact that such information may be discoverable, however, does not guarantee that it will be admissible at trial.

Subsequent to the ruling described above, the court denied a motion for reconsideration, finding that it had not committed an error of law. The court “reiterate[d] that it considers the mediation privilege a very important privilege in jurisprudence; however, for the Court to stretch the mediation privilege beyond its plain meaning and ambit of protection, in fact, would undercut the privilege itself and exceed this Court’s power and authority.” Golon, Inc. v. Selective Ins. Co. of the Southeast, Case No. 17-cv-0819 (W.D. Pa. Dec. 7, 2017 and Dec. 14, 2017).

 

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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