Florida Appeals Court Certifies Bad Faith Insurance Claim Question to Supreme Court: Boozer v. Stalley

Florida’s Fifth District Court of Appeals has certified a question of law to the Supreme Court of Florida in a bad faith insurance dispute. In Boozer v. Stalley, a boy was hurt in a motor vehicle collision that was apparently caused by a woman who was covered by two automobile insurance policies issued by related insurers. Following the collision, the guardian of the boy filed a negligence lawsuit against the woman, and her insurer secured an attorney to represent her. Following trial, jurors awarded the boy more than $11 million in damages. The insurance company paid the policy limits of $1.1 million, and the boy was unable to collect the remaining $10 million. Later, the boy’s guardian filed a third-party bad faith insurance claim against the woman’s liability insurance company. The same attorney continued to appear on behalf of the woman at the request of the insurer during post-judgment proceedings.

As part of the bad faith insurance lawsuit, the boy’s guardian sought to depose the at-fault motorist’s lawyer. The attorney refused to be questioned and asserted the attorney-client privilege. The attorney-client privilege requires a licensed attorney to protect most confidential statements made by a client in connection with his or her legal representation from disclosure. Despite this, a client may waive the privilege in a number of ways. After a trial court ordered the attorney to submit to deposition, he appeared as instructed. Although the legal advocate answered general questions posed by the boy’s guardian, the lawyer refused to disclose information he felt was privileged. The deposition was adjourned, and the woman and her attorney filed a petition for review with the Fifth District Appeals Court.

According to the boy’s guardian, his evidentiary requests were appropriate because Florida precedent states he may obtain discovery materials that would have been available to the at-fault driver. The Fifth District disagreed, however, and held that the lower court’s order compelling the woman’s attorney to disclose legally privileged materials was inappropriate and should be quashed. After analyzing the relevant case law, the Fifth District stated precedent shields attorney-client communications from discovery in a first-party bad faith claim. Since Florida case law is currently silent regarding whether attorney-client communications are shielded from discovery in a third-party bad faith insurance case, Florida’s Fifth District Court of Appeals certified the question to the Florida Supreme Court.

Unfortunately, insurance companies sometimes refuse to pay valid personal injury claims. If you or someone you love was injured in a Miami car accident, you may be entitled to recover financial compensation for your harm. The knowledgeable attorneys at Friedman, Rodman & Frank, P.A. represent motor vehicle crash and other personal injury victims across South Florida. To discuss your case with an experienced personal injury advocate, please contact Friedman, Rodman & Frank, P.A. through our website or call us at (305) 448-8585.

Additional Resources:

Boozer v. Stalley, Fla: Dist. Court of Appeals, 5th Dist. 2014

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Tampa Federal Court Refuses to Sever Bad Faith Claim Against Insurer From Underlying Lawsuit: Jirau v. Wathen, September 2, 2014, South Florida Personal Injury Lawyers Blog

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