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A woman who says Allstate Insurance Co. misled her into settling below the value of her claim must answer deposition questions regarding a conversation she had with a prior attorney, a Pennsylvania common pleas court judge has ruled. Norine Goss attained new counsel after she realized that she may have been treated unfairly by an insurer. Allstate said Goss had actually spoken with an attorney prior to her settling the case and the company wanted to talk to her about her interaction with that attorney. Goss claimed attorney-client privilege, but the court sided with the insurer. “In her complaint, plaintiff alleged that she justifiably relied on misrepresentations contained in the Allstate ‘Customer Service Pledge’ and did not hire an attorney because she thought that Allstate would treat her fairly, as if she were its own policyholder,” Dauphin County, Pa., Court of Common Pleas Judge Jeannine Turgeon wrote in Goss v. Allstate, PICS Case No. 00-2446 (C.P. Dauphin Nov. 2, 2000) Turgeon, J. (4 pages). “However, the record before us indicates that prior to settling, plaintiff telephoned attorney [Peter] Munsing, sought his advice regarding the automobile accident and relied upon some of his advice. This conversation is directly relevant to determining whether or not plaintiff’s reliance on Allstate’s alleged misrepresentations was justified.” On Sept. 15, 1995, Goss sustained injuries in an accident with an Allstate-insured driver. Goss alleged that four days after the accident, Allstate sent her its “Customer Service Pledge,” which said it would keep Goss informed, conduct a fair investigation, and determine if she should receive compensation for her injuries. On Sept. 17, 1998, Goss signed a release in exchange for a $9,600 settlement. Goss later attained another attorney and sued Allstate and employee Dorothy Carson, alleging the pledge misled Goss into settling her claim for less than she should have. She said because of this misrepresentation, she did not hire an attorney from the onset because of her “reliance that Allstate would treat her fairly.” Goss, however, had said in a prior deposition in a separate action against Allstate that she spoke with Munsing before she signed the release and followed some of his advice. She did not hire Munsing, however, because she said “she was not pleased with his actions.” Allstate then tried to question Goss about her interaction with Munsing. Although Goss said that she did indeed contact Munsing about potentially hiring him, her attorney directed her not to answer any more questions. Goss then asserted her attorney-client privilege. The court was therefore faced with deciding whether Goss waived her privilege when she filed a complaint alleging Allstate misled her, “which placed at issue whether or not she relied on the advice of anyone other than Allstate or its employee in deciding to execute a release without benefit of legal counsel.” Turgeon said whether Goss had an attorney-client relationship with Munsing was not at issue, but rather the issue was whether Allstate court prove that the information it sought did not violate that privilege. The court sided with Allstate. “The attorney-client privilege may be waived ‘when the communication is made in the presence of or communicated to a third party or to the court, when the client relies on the attorney’s advice as an affirmative defense, or when the confidential information is placed at issue,’ ” Turgeon wrote. “ We agree with Allstate that plaintiff waived the privilege by placing the confidential information at issue by alleging fraud in this action.” The court accordingly granted Allstate’s motion to compel answers to deposition questions.

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