Sloan Bobrick, P.S., Attorneys, University Place, WA

Insurance Defense and Litigation

When you are named as a defendant in a lawsuit because of an accident with your car or around your home and your insurance company assigns a lawyer to defend you, that’s the insurance company’s lawyer, right? They pick the lawyer, and pay the attorney’s fees and costs, and it is the insurance company’s money at risk in the suit, so it must be their lawyer. Not true!

When your insurance company appoints an attorney to represent you, that person is your lawyer for the duration of that case. The relationship is a little different from when you hire an attorney privately in that not only you, but the insurance company, will get reports about the details of the case, and most policies provide that the insurer has the right to decide whether to fight the case or settle. But that does not change the rule that the lawyer’s duty of loyalty is to you — the client — and all rights and privileges associated with an attorney-client relationship exist.

A substantial percentage of the practice of Sloan Bobrick Law, P.S. involves defending people who have been sued for injuries arising out of an accident. We represent clients who are insured as well as those who either have no insurance or have inadequate limits of liability insurance. Let’s assume that you have been sued because of an accident which occurred on the premises of your home and your homeowners insurance company has retained us to defend you.

First, we will write to introduce the responsible lawyer to you and to invite you to come in and talk about the case. While we are conducting discovery and investigation into the merits of the other side’s case, the other side is doing the same to our side. When the other side sends written questions (interrogatories) about yourbackground and the accident, we will send copies to you for a first look and then work with you to write the final answers. Often the other side’s attorney will want to question you under oath a deposition and we will work with you in advance to prepare you for your testimony and be there to represent you during the questioning to make sure it is done within the rules. You will be sent copies of all pertinent documents in the case. Remember, even though your insurance company may have referred the case to us, you are our client, so what you tell us in confidence is protected by the attorney-client privilege. This confidential attorney and client relationship remains true even in the unusual case where the insurance company accepted the obligation to provide a defense (pay for your attorney’s fees and costs) but it has reserved its right to deny coverage, in whole or in part, if it determines that the claim against you is not fully covered by your policy.

As an example, there may be a question of whether the claim is covered or excluded because it is unclear whether it arose out of an incident which was a business pursuit rather than a personal matter or you may be underinsured because the value of the claim potentially exceeds the dollar limits of your policy. In those examples, the insurance company is obligated to vigorously defend you even though it may advise you of the potential problem by sending you a Reservation of Rights Letter. Remember, once the case is assigned to a lawyer, that lawyer’s ethical obligations are to you, not the insurance company.

If the case is one of potential excess damages, the lawyer has an ethical duty to you to try to resolve the case within your policy limits so as to eliminate financial exposure to you beyond your insurance, if possible. If it is a situation where coverage is in question, the lawyer has an enhanced duty to keep you fully informed and involved in all matters of strategy and settlement, even if it is adverse to the interests of the insurance company. The attorney must not allow the insurance company to influence his or her professional judgment to your detriment. Your defense counsel can have no involvement in determining the answer to the question of whether the claim is covered the duty is to defend you in the case.

How does this firm receive defense assignments from insurance companies? The answer is that we have competent and experienced attorneys. We have defended cases for some insurance companies for over 20 years. We are “AV” rated by Martindale-Hubbell, the national rating firm. It is the definitive reference that lawyers and claims representatives look to when seeking background information on law firms. “AV” is the highest rating a firm can receive. Our senior lawyers average over 25 years of trial experience and have tried cases in many areas of the law, ranging from routine injury cases to complex multi- party litigation of national significance.

While much of our defense litigation is at the referral of insurance companies, we also represent clients in cases which do not involve personal injuries, such as contract and business disputes, employment and labor law claims, construction claims and real estate litigation.

If you have any questions about our litigation services, please call any of us. We would be pleased to have the opportunity to talk to you.