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In re Allstate Fire & Casualty Insurance Co.

Court of Appeals of Texas, Twelfth District, Tyler

November 8, 2017

IN RE: ALLSTATE FIRE & CASUALTY INSURANCE COMPANY, RELATOR
v.
HON. JEFF FLETCHER, Respondent. ALLSTATE FIRE & CASUALTY INSURANCE COMPANY, Relator

         ORIGINAL PROCEEDING

          Panel consisted of Worthen, C.J., Hoyle, J., and Neeley, J.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          JAMES T. WORTHEN CHIEF JUSTICE.

         In this original proceeding, Allstate Fire and Casualty Insurance Company seeks mandamus relief from the trial court's May 24, 2017 order compelling discovery related to severed and abated claims arising from uninsured/underinsured motorist insurance coverage and July 26 order denying Allstate's motion for reconsideration.[1] We conditionally grant the writ.

         Background

         The underlying suit arises out of a car accident that occurred in January 2015. Margarita Galaz was injured when her vehicle was struck by a vehicle driven by Larry Edward Lowrey. Galaz filed a claim with Lowrey's insurance provider and subsequently reached a settlement with Lowrey's insurer.

         Galaz was also insured under an automobile insurance policy underwritten by Allstate. The insurance policy provides for uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage. Under this provision, Allstate is obligated to pay compensatory damages, which Galaz is entitled to recover from the owner or operator of an uninsured motor vehicle because of bodily injury sustained by an insured and caused by an accident. In February 2016, Galaz made an underinsured motorist demand on Allstate. In March, Allstate informed Galaz that her claim did not appear to "pierce the threshold for an Underinsured Motorist claim[]" and that it would not be making any settlement offers at that time.

         In May, Galaz sued Allstate, asserting that Lowrey's negligence caused the accident and that Lowrey was underinsured. She sought payment under the uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage and asserted violations of the Texas Insurance Code based on Allstate's failure to pay policy benefits. The parties agreed to sever and abate the Insurance Code claims. Thus, the extracontractual claims were severed and abated but the contractual claim proceeded in the underlying case.

         Galaz served Allstate with interrogatories, requests for admissions, and requests for production. These requests sought discovery of documents and information regarding Allstate's basis for its alleged denial of Galaz's claim for underinsured motorist coverage. Allstate filed objections and responses to the requests contending that the information was protected by the work product and trade secret privileges and was only relevant to the abated claims. On January 18, 2017, Galaz filed a motion to compel discovery responses and a privilege log. On January 26, at a hearing on the motion, the trial court verbally limited discovery to the following topics, which were outlined in a letter from Galaz's counsel to Allstate's counsel:

(1) [T]he contents, terms, and conditions of the insurance policy at issue in the lawsuit;
(2) Any policy defenses upon which [Allstate] may rely in the trial of this case;
(3) Any conditions precedent which [Allstate] may allege that [Galaz] failed to comply with;
(4) [Allstate's] factual and legal contentions regarding the damages [Galaz] is entitled ...

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