Litigation Privilege Protects Adjuster's File

When does litigation privilege arise in tort claims?

Panetta v. Retrocom, 2013 ONSC 2386 (S.C.J.)

In this slip and fall action, there was a question of whether litigation privilege applied to an investigation done by an adjuster prior to defence counsel being appointed.  The plaintiff fell in a Wal-mart parking lot and an incident report was prepared.  A few weeks later, an adjuster retained by Wal-mart's insurers wrote to the landlord of the premises advising it of the incident.  The plaintiff sought production of the adjuster's notes, file and reports, on the basis that litigation privilege had not yet arisen at the time they were created/obtained.

Justice Quinn held that the notes were privileged:

[61]   I think that, in third-party or tort claims (as opposed to claims by an insured against his or her own insurer), there is no preliminary investigative phase where privilege does not attach to notes, reports and files of adjusters. In third-party insurance claims, the sole reason for any investigation by or on behalf of an insurer is because of the prospect of litigation. It is naive to think otherwise; and the fact that the investigation may be used to arrive at a pre-lawsuit settlement does not detract from the point that I make. The prospect of litigation inherently includes the prospect of settlement.

When the adjusters were retained to conduct their investigation on behalf of Wal-mart's insurer, the sole purpose of any documents they created was in anticipation of litigation.  The decision provides a helpful summary of the case law regarding litigation privilege (and as an added bonus, a nice example of Justice Quinn's sense of humour). 

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