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Judge Wettick, of the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County – one of the most respected and influential Judges in Pennsylvania – revisited issues that were before him in Gunn v. The Automobile Insurance Company of Hartford, which ultimately went to the Superior Court of Pennsylvania, summarized on this Blog. That case involved the issues of staying discovery on a bad faith claim and severing the bad faith and breach of contract cases.

In this case, State Farm was the carrier in a UIM action, where the insured claimed breach of contract for failure to pay UIM benefits and bad faith for that alleged failure to pay. State Farm sought to stay discovery on the bad faith claim, pending the outcome of the breach of contract claim. State Farm argued that requiring it to furnish information as to the values it placed on the UIM claim, how it reached those values and its opinions on the strengths and weaknesses of the UIM claim would be akin to forcing the defense in a football game to turn over its formation for the upcoming play before the offense selected a play.

Judge Wettick agreed that State Farm should not be required to furnish that information until after the UIM claim went to the jury. However, as soon as the case went to the jury, State Farm had to provide the discovery and once the jury returned its verdict, the trial court judge would begin trying the bad faith claim. [It should be observed here that at this time, bad faith claims go to juries in federal court, but are tried only by judges in Pennsylvania state courts.]

If an instance arises where a plaintiff believes the bad faith claim cannot immediately go to trial because of the postponement of discovery until the time of jury deliberations, then that plaintiff should file a motion under Pennsylvania Rule of Civil Procedure 213 to stay the bad faith trial. Such a motion must be filed promptly on the basis that there was not adequate time to prepare for the bad faith trial.

In addition, the court might postpone the bad faith trial if plaintiff, on receiving the discovery, offers a compelling explanation as to why the trial cannot proceed at that time, and as to why the request for a later trial was not made shortly after the court issued the order delaying the discovery.

Date of Decision: September 9, 2009

Wutz v. Smith and State Farm Insurance Company, No. GD07-021766 (Court of Common Pleas, Allegheny County Sept. 9, 2009) (Wettick, J.)