Alabama Supreme Court Now Decides To Stay Out Of Work-Product Issue
In Ex parte Schnitzer Steel Industries, Inc., released on September 27, 2013 (summarized on our blog September 28, 2013), the Alabama Supreme Court granted the employer’s petition for writ of mandamus and held that the post-accident report was prepared in anticipation of litigation and, therefore, was considered work product and not discoverable.
On May 30, 2014, the Alabama Supreme Court decided not to get involved in a work product issue in Ex parte USA Water Ski, Inc. and denied the petition for writ of mandamus filed by USA Water Ski, Inc. The issue came before the Supreme Court previously when USA Water Ski, Inc filed a petition for writ of mandamus in June of 2013. In June the Supreme Court found that the post accident report at issue was work product and directed the trial court vacate its order that USA Water Ski, Inc. produce the report. Upon remand additional evidence came to light suggesting the post accident report was not prepared in anticipation of litigation. The trial court once again ordered that USA Water Ski, Inc. produce the post accident report. USA Water Ski, Inc. once again file a petition for writ of mandamus and this time the Supreme Court denied the petition without an opinion. However, Chief Justice Moore wrote a concurring opinion. According to Chief Justice Moore a writ of mandamus is not proper in the context of discovery issues and the Supreme Court should not get involved. Chief Justice Moore opined that the trial court is in a better position to deal with discovery issues and petitions for writ of mandamus require the need for extraordinary remedy which is normally not present in discovery issues.
My Two Cents:
It seems that once the trial court orders a party to produce a post accident report the Supreme Court is most likely going to defer to the trial court’s opinion and not get involved. For this reason it is important for employers to establish the reason behind the creation of the post accident report. As the Supreme Court ruled in Ex parte Schnitzer Steel Industries, Inc the report does not have to be solely prepared in anticipation of litigation but there must be evidence that the employer could have reasonably assumed litigation was expected, and for that reason, as well as standard procedure or other reasons, prepared the post accident report. If the employer can establish this at the trial level the post-accident report should not be discoverable. However, if the trial court orders that it be produced the Supreme Court has indicated that they are not likely going to get involved in discovery issues.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
The article was written by Joshua G. Holden, Esq. a Member of Fish Nelson, LLC, a law firm dedicated to representing employers, self-insured employers and insurance carriers in workers’ compensation and related liability matters. Mr. Holden is AV rated by Martindale-Hubbell, which is the highest rating an attorney can receive. Holden and his firm are members of The National Workers’ Compensation Defense Network (NWCDN). The NWCDN is a national and Canadian network of reputable law firms organized to provide employers and insurers access to the highest quality representation in workers’ compensation and related employer liability fields.
If you have questions about this article or Alabama workers’ compensation issues in general, please feel free to contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-332-1428.