Representation of Insured, Insurer, and UIM Carrier
Opinion rules that an attorney may represent the insured, his liability insurer, and the same insurer relative to underinsured motorist coverage carried by the plaintiff if the insurer waives its subrogation rights against the insured and the plaintiff executes a covenant not to enforce judgment.
Attorney A is retained by Insurance Company to represent Defendant M in an automobile negligence lawsuit under its policy with Defendant M which provides him with liability coverage. Attorney A makes an appearance in the lawsuit on behalf of Defendant M, files responsive pleadings and discovery, and otherwise actively defends Defendant M.
Insurance Company also provides underinsured motorist coverage for Plaintiff. Insurance Company tenders its liability coverage limits to Plaintiff pursuant to G.S. §20-279.21(b)(4) and waives all subrogation rights against Defendant M. In addition, Plaintiff agrees to execute a covenant not to enforce judgment against Defendant M. The lawsuit initiated by Plaintiff against Defendant M will continue so that Plaintiff can recover UIM proceeds from Insurance Company.
After tender of Insurance Company's liability limits, can Attorney A remain in the case as attorney for Insurance Company and protect Insurance Company's interests under its UIM coverage in the lawsuit, with Defendant M's consent, since Defendant M has no personal exposure?
Yes. Rule 5.1(b). RPC 154, also involving an automobile negligence case, addressed the question of whether a lawyer may represent both the defendant, under an insurance company's liability policy with the defendant, and the same insurance company under its UIM policy with the plaintiff. The opinion noted that the provisions of G.S. §20-279.21(b)(4) give certain subrogation or assignment rights to an UIM insurer against the owner, operator or maintainer of an underinsured vehicle. Therefore, RPC 154 held that an attorney representing both parties would have a disqualifying conflict of interest because the subrogation or assignment rights of the insurance company would cause the interests of the defendant and the insurance company under its UIM policy to be materially different and adverse. See also, RPC 110.
In the instant inquiry, Defendant M has no personal liability because Insurance Company has waived its right of subrogation against Defendant M, and Plaintiff has executed a covenant not to enforce judgment against Defendant M. The interests of Defendant M and Insurance Company are not, therefore, adverse, and Attorney A would not be likely to have his ability to represent both parties materially impaired in violation of Rule 5.1(b).
If the answer to Inquiry #1 is affirmative, must a motion be filed and an order entered relieving Attorney A of his duty to defend Defendant M and substituting him as attorney of record for Insurance Company?
No opinion is given with regard to whether any changes in the nominal appearance of Attorney A in the lawsuit need to be made, or with regard to the procedural requirements under G.S. §20-279.21(b)(4) for making an appearance in the lawsuit on behalf of Insurance Company as the UIM insurer. However, if Insurance Company elects, pursuant to the provisions of G.S. §20-279.21, to appear in the action in its own name as the UIM insurer and to be released from further liability or obligation to participate in the defense of Defendant M, Attorney A must comply with the requirements of the statute with regard to apprising Defendant M "of the nature of the proceeding and [giving him] the right to select counsel of his own choice to appear in the action on his separate behalf." Attorney M must explain the nature of the proceedings to the extent reasonably necessary to permit Defendant M to make an informed decision with regard to individually retaining another lawyer to represent him or electing not to be represented in the lawsuit. RPC 156.