Conflict Between Insured and Insurer
Opinion rules that an attorney employed by the insurer to represent the insured and its own interests may not send the insurer a letter on behalf of the insured demanding settlement within the policy limits.
Editor's Note: This opinion was originally published as RPC 91 (Revised).
Attorney A is retained by an insurance company to defend Dr. B in a malpractice suit brought against Dr. B. The case is very serious with catastrophic injuries to a minor child. The doctor has $2,000,000 of insurance coverage. Dr. B comes to Attorney A and tells him that he is very worried about the case and wants Attorney A to immediately send a demand letter to the insurance company to settle within policy limits. Dr. B tells Attorney A that he read an article in a professional publication that he should do this in the event the jury awards the Plaintiff a judgment in excess of his policy limits. Dr. B could then sue his insurer for bad faith refusal to settle within policy limits. How should Attorney A handle this situation?
Attorney A must not undertake to counsel with Dr. B relative to any bad faith claim and may not send a demand letter on his behalf to the insurance company; however, Attorney A is obligated to inform the insurance company of Dr. B's wishes in regard to the case. Rule 6(b)(l). Rule 7.1(a)(l). Whenever defense counsel is employed by an insurance company to defend an insured against a claim, he or she represents both the insurer and the insured. When the possibility of judgment in excess of the policy limits becomes apparent to defense counsel, he or she must promptly advise both clients of the existence and nature of the conflict. Rule 5.1(a). Where the insured has contractually surrendered control of the defense and authority to settle the claim to the insurer, counsel will generally be obliged to accept his or her instructions in these matters from the insurer. In order to fully protect the insured from exposure in excess of the policy limits, especially with regard to settlement, defense counsel obtained by the insurer should also advise the insured that he or she cannot fully represent those interests and that it would be appropriate for the insured to consider employing independent counsel to provide such representation.