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Discovery of the claims file – some limitationsNovember 11, 2017

Celani v Allstate Indem. Co., 2017 NY Slip Op 07799 (4th Dept. 2017)

(1) Contrary to defendant’s contention, the court properly ordered disclosure of pre-disclaimer claim notes containing statements made by the father. It is well settled that “there must be full disclosure of accident reports prepared in the ordinary course of business that were motivated at least in part by a business concern other than preparation for litigation” (Calkins v Perry, 168 AD2d 999, 999 [4th Dept 1990]; see Beaumont v Smyth, 306 AD2d 921, 921 [4th Dept 2003]). Here, the father made his statements to defendant’s investigators before defendant made the decision to disclaim, and there is no dispute that defendant’s employees relied on those statements in making that decision.”

(2)We agree with defendant, however, that the court abused its discretion in granting that part of plaintiff’s motion seeking disclosure of the legal opinion of outside counsel and pre-disclaimer claim notes related thereto and denying that part of defendant’s cross motion seeking a protective order with respect to those items, and we therefore modify the order accordingly. Although reports prepared in the regular course of business are discoverable (see Lalka v ACA Ins. Co., 128 AD3d 1508, 1508-1509 [4th Dept 2015]), documents prepared by an attorney that are “primarily and predominantly of a legal character,” and made to furnish legal services, are absolutely privileged and not discoverable, regardless of whether there was pending litigation at the time they were prepared

** Note, this differs from the case from the First Department where the attorney was acting in a mixed role of fact finder and lawyer **

(3) We conclude that the court abused its discretion in granting that part of plaintiff’s motion seeking disclosure of defendant’s claim investigation manual and denying that part of defendant’s cross motion with respect thereto without first conducting an in camera review. As the moving party, plaintiff had the burden of demonstrating that “the method of discovery sought will result in the disclosure of relevant evidence or is reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of information bearing on the claims” (Crazytown Furniture v Brooklyn Union Gas Co., 150 AD2d 420, 421 [2d Dept 1989]; see Quinones v 9 E. 69th St., LLC, 132 AD3d 750, 750 [2d Dept 2015]). Inasmuch as the employee of defendant who made the ultimate decision to disclaim testified that the manual did not contain a definition of “resident,” the court should have reviewed the manual in camera to determine whether it contained information material and relevant to the issues to be decided in the action

** The claims investigation manual is possibly privileged.

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