Stephens v. State Farm Fire and Casualty Company, Dist. Court, MD Pennsylvania 2015

The United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania recently held that specifically tailored requests to an insurer for information regarding an adjuster whose conduct was at issue in the litigation was discoverable so long as the requests were limited in scope. The Court granted the plaintiff's request for State Farm's (1) claim manuals, guidelines, and instruction materials relating to similar insurance claims, limited to the years at issue in the present suit; (2) personnel files of the claims adjuster insofar as they contained disciplinary findings or other material relevant to other claims of bad faith conduct by that adjuster; and (3) prior lawsuits or complaints alleging bad faith by this particular claims adjuster in the two years preceding the incident giving rise to the instant suit. The Court decidedly limited the plaintiff's broad-based requests for information related to all similar claims and all employees' performance reviews and disciplinary findings to those specific only to the adjuster because the conduct of State Farm's adjuster was squarely at issue in the present action. Furthermore, the Court required that to the extent the information existed, it must be first provided to the Court for an in camera inspection to determine its relevance to the issues in the current litigation. NOTE:   This ruling is both narrower and broader than discovery orders that have been issued in the Federal Courts in our jurisdiction.  Limiting the narrow discovery allowed to two (2) years is less than ever requested and often less than granted at times.   It does reflect, however, a reluctance to allow broad-based discovery into personnel information unless a particular adjustor can be connected with a particular claim of bad faith.  Often adjusters are joined to try to establish state court jurisdiction and not really for asserting a meritorious, separate claim based upon a particular adjustor’s conduct.  Absent such an assertion, no such discovery should be allowed.  It certainly should from the insurer’s standpoint, be vigorously challenged.

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