Uninsured / Underinsured Cases

Lawyers who handle uninsured and underinsured motorist (UM) cases need to read this 2016, Corpus Christi Court of Appeals opinion.  The case is styled, In re Luna.

In this UM case, the Court conditionally granted a petition for mandamus where the insured sought to obtain the deposition of State Farm’s corporate representative.   In this case, Luna originally sued Armando Antunez, the intoxicated, uninsured motorist who caused Luna to sustain severe injuries.    Luna also sued State Farm for UM benefits and for extra-contractual claims.  The Court severed all three cases from each other and abated the UM and the extra-contractual case during the case against Antunez. 

During the original case filed against Antunez, Luna requested the deposition of State Farm’s corporate representative.   The trial court denied that request, and Luna did not challenge the Court’s decision in the case against Antunez.    Eventually, Luna took a default judgment against Antunez and began prosecuting the UM case against State Farm.  

During the UM case against State Farm, Luna again requested the deposition of State Farm’s corporate representative.  State Farm again filed a Motion to Quash claiming (1) waiver; (2) the request was improper, harassing and solely to abuse State Farm; (3) the burden and expense of the deposition out weights its likely benefits; (4) the information sought was not relevant to the issues or (5) State Farm has no personal knowledge of the matters requested and (6) there was a stipulation of coverage that had already been entered.   State Farm went through a lengthy explanation to the court about why it would take days to determine who to present for the deposition, and that it would cost State Farm $10,000 to present a corporate representative for the deposition.  However, the court noted that counsel for State Farm had produced corporate representatives on 2 other UM cases by agreement in cases with “very large policies with catastrophic damages.”    In ordering that State Farm present the corporate representative for deposition, the court noted:

1.     A litigant generally has a right to depose the opposing party, and that in the case of In re Garcia, it was held to be an abuse of discretion to quash the deposition of a State Farm representative during a UM case;

2.     There was no waiver, because the decision not to appeal the court’s previous granting of the Motion to Quash was in the underlying case against the tortfeasor, and State Farm was not a party to that case.

3.     A party can seek discovery of unprivileged information that is relevant to the subject matter of the lawsuit including inadmissible evidence as long as it  is reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence.

4.     The Rules of Civil Procedure permit a party to take the deposition of “any person or entity.”   TRCP 200.1(a).  However, the person noticed for deposition has the right to protection from “undue burden, unnecessary expense, harassment, annoyance, or invasion of personal, constitutional or property rights according to TRCP 192.6.

5.     The Court noted that the Plaintiff has the burden of proof in a UM case, and the stipulation of coverage does not address all of the relevant matters.   The deposition notice requested the person who has the most knowledge of State Farm’s contentions regarding liability and damages.   State Farm did not stipulate to liability or to damages, and the Court found that it was  abundantly clear that State Farm intends to contest both liability and damages in this case.

6.     In rejecting State Farm’s contention that its corporate representative will not have personal knowledge of the facts at issue in this lawsuit, the court noted that TRCP 192.3 provides that “a person has knowledge of relevant facts when the person has or may have knowledge of any discoverable matter.  The person need not have admissible information or personal knowledge of the facts.

7.     In rejecting State Farm’s claims that the deposition notice was burdensome and harassing and that the burden of the deposition outweighs the benefits of doing the deposition, the court noted that much of costs associated with the deposition are due to State Farm’s own “conscious, discretionary decisions” and that considering the amount of the default judgment $161,091.00 as compared to the costs of $10,000 to give the deposition, the cost did not outweigh the benefit.  Further, there was no evidence offered regarding the resources of each party.

8.     Considering the importance of the issues at stake in the litigation and the importance of the proposed discovery in resolving the issues, the burden on State Farm is outweighed by Luna’s interests in obtaining relevant discovery.