The firm’s B. Michael Clark, Jr. and Susan C. Odess wrote an article that appeared as the “My View” guest column in today’s Business Monday section of the Miami Herald. The article, which was titled “Insurers Make Mockery of Work Product Privilege Laws,” focused on the abuse by insurance companies of the state’s untenable work product privilege laws shielding their entire “claim file” from discovery in litigation. The article reads:
A series of misinterpreted and sometimes contradictory court rulings during the last decade have created a situation in which the state courts and federal courts in Florida disagree on whether insurance carriers’ claim files are subject to discovery by plaintiffs in first-party property litigation. As a result, insurers are now afforded greater work product protection than any others in Florida’s state courts by being allowed to shield important reports, estimates, communications and photographs that would be subject to discovery in the state’s federal courts as well as in many of the other courts in the country.
The work product doctrine, which is incorporated into both the Federal and Florida Rules of Civil Procedure, is intended to shield from discovery documents and communications that are created in anticipation of litigation. It has been extended by Florida’s state courts to include all insurance company reports, communications, correspondence and routine claims investigation documents simply because the companies deem these materials to be part of their claim file, regardless of the fact that these documents were not generated in anticipation of litigation but rather during the routine course of claim investigation.
This has created a de facto new “insurer claim file” privilege that exists solely to enable insurers to exempt relevant documents from discovery, and it has quickly become the most confusing and arbitrarily enforced privilege in the state’s legal system. Insurers routinely invoke this privilege to avoid divulging everything except for copies of the actual policy and any written communications they had previously sent to the policyholder.
It seems preposterous to identify all pre-loss reports, photographs and emails starting from the moment when an insurer first issued a policy to have been generated in preparation for litigation. Yet somehow the state courts in Florida have (mis)interpreted several rulings and created an all-encompassing work product immunity for everything that insurers deem to be a part of their sacred claim file, regardless of whether litigation was actually being contemplated.