The Texas Supreme Court on Friday reversed a Dallas County judge’s decision to sanction an insurer for making an “overbroad” discovery demand, finding that the carrier had a valid interest in the medical records of a claimant who had been involved in five other automobile accidents.
The high court granted a writ of mandamus requested by Liberty County Mutual Insurance Co. and vacated the trial court’s orders to quash the carrier’s deposition notices and levy $2,000 in sanctions.
Liberty had asked claimant Thalia Harris’ physician for medical records spanning from five years before to five years after the April 2017 car crash that she claimed had injured her. Dallas County Judge Juan Renteria and a panel with the 5th District Appellate Court found the insurer’s subpoenas too broad, but the Supreme Court said it was an abuse of discretion not to approve the discovery demand.
“The trial court’s order prevents Liberty from obtaining records from Harris’ primary doctor regarding her pre-accident condition and whether she complained of similar injuries from her multiple other car accidents,” the decision says.
Harris sought underinsured motorist benefits from Liberty after an April 2017 car crash. She received $100,000 from a policy-limits settlement with the insurer for the driver of the other car, but she claimed she would need an additional $265,000 in medical treatment and filed an underinsured motorist claim with Liberty, her own insurer.
After Liberty denied the claim, Harris filed a lawsuit against the carrier and its claims adjuster. The insurer learned that Harris had also been involved in an auto crash in March 2015 and was involved in additional crashes in June 2017, April 2018, June 2019 and January 2020.
Liberty demanded from Harris’ physician, Dr. F.J. Simmons, all documents regarding her treatment starting in April 2007 up the date of the subpoena, which was filed approximately five years after the claimed injuries. After Harris filed a motion to quash the subpoena, Liberty agreed to narrow its request to a ten-year time span — from five years before the accident to five years after.
Harris’ attorney said during a court hearing that two other trial courts had quashed similar discovery requests and imposed sanctions “for the same thing” Liberty had done.
Judge Resteria granted Harris’ motion to quash and ordered defense counsel to pay a $2,000 sanctions. Liberty filed a petition for a writ of mandamus to overturn that order. The carrier appealed to the Supreme Court after the 5th Appellate District denied the petition.
The Supreme Court said it grants mandamus relief only if the requesting party can show there was an abuse of discretion and that it lacks an adequate remedy on appeal. Liberty argued that the order to refuse its discovery request was an abuse of discretion because Harris was seeking damages for back and neck injuries similar to injuries she said she had suffered in at least some of the other car crashes.
The high court said in any discovery demand, a trial court’s must consider whether the party’s need for information is proportionate to the needs of the case. In personal injury cases, evidence about a party’s condition before an accident and progress afterward is relevant, the opinion says. Dr. Simmons is likely the only person who can provide information about Harris’ condition before the accident, the court said.
“Liberty’s discovery requests sought relevant information and were not so broad or disproportionate as to justify an order precluding all discovery from Dr. Simmons,” the opinion says.
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