RECORDED PHONE CONVERSATION WITH INSURER PROTECTED AS A STATEMENT PREPARED FOR LITIGATION.
The Third Department, reversing Supreme Court, determined the audio recording of a conversation between defendant and his insurer was privileged as a statement prepared for litigation. Plaintiff was injured using a log splitter on defendant’s property. Defendant denied owning the log splitter and plaintiff alleged defendant admitted ownership in the statement:
The statement was made during a phone conversation between Judy Gavin, the insurer’s claims representative, and defendant five days after the incident. At the start of the conversation, Gavin informed defendant that the conversation was being recorded and taken as part of the normal claims process. Gavin further agreed to provide defendant with a copy of the statement. We have long recognized that “[t]he purpose of liability insurance is the defense and settlement of claims and, once an accident has arisen, there is little or nothing that the insurer or its employees do with respect to accident reports except in preparation for eventual litigation or for a settlement which may avoid litigation” … . As such, an insurer’s file is generally protected by “a conditional immunity . . . as material prepared for litigation” … . This conditional privilege may have to yield to disclosure where the other party demonstrates a substantial need for the material and withholding same would result in undue hardship (see CPLR 3101 [d] ). Accident reports prepared with a mixed purpose, however, are not exempt from disclosure … .
Defendant’s burden was to demonstrate that his statement was obtained solely for litigation purposes … . To that end, defendant submitted the affidavit of Dennis Stauffer, who was Gavin’s supervisor at the time of the incident. Stauffer explained that Gavin was no longer employed by the insurer and that she procured the statement in accord with the insurer’s “normal practice in anticipation of future litigation.” In our view, Stauffer’s affidavit, coupled with Gavin’s own characterization of the interview as part of the normal claims process, satisfied defendant’s threshold burden of proof … . There is no dispute that ownership of the log splitter is a key issue, but plaintiffs have other means available to explore this issue, and they have not demonstrated any undue hardship if the statement is withheld. Nor is there any indication that the statement was taken for some purpose other than preparing for litigation. Curci v Foley, 2017 NY Slip Op 03100, 3rd Dept 4-20-17
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