Insurer Obligated to Produce Underwriting Files Relating to Policies Issued to Other Policyholders

The United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania ruled that, under federal rules of civil procedure regarding discovery, an insurer is obligated to produce in coverage litigation underwriting files relating to policies issued to other policyholders. H. J. Heinz Co. v. Starr Surplus Lines Ins. Co., 2015 WL 5781295 (W.D. Pa. Oct. 1, 2015).

The insured, a food manufacturer, brought a declaratory judgment action against its insurer seeking coverage under a product contamination policy in connection with a recall of baby food that the insured had produced. In discovery, the policyholder sought underwriting files relating to similar insurance policies issued to other policyholders. The insurer objected to the request on the grounds that (1) the request was “overly broad, unduly burdensome, and not reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence,” and (2) the requested documents contained confidential third-party information. The policyholder agreed to narrow its request to specific documents from the underwriting files, including: each policyholder’s application, the loss history page, pages identifying “subjectives” required of the policyholder, the premium charged, and any analysis the insurer conducted in deciding to issue the policy or set the premium. The request also stated that the insurer could redact confidential information, such as the name of the policyholder.

When the parties were unable to resolve the discovery dispute, the policyholder filed a motion to compel, which the court granted. In so doing, the court concluded that the request was narrowly tailored and appropriate in light of the amount in dispute between the parties. Additionally, the court ruled that the request was appropriately limited in scope because it was confined to a specific set of policies, involving comparable insured companies, which were issued over a specific time period. Finally, the court rejected the insurer’s argument that the request was inappropriate due to the private nature of insurance policies, reasoning that the request allowed for safeguards to protect private information, such as redaction.


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