Unless and until a lawsuit is filed, insurers may not divulge policy limits without the insured’s consent. In one case, it was held that absent appropriate authorization from the insured, insurance carriers are statutorily barred from disclosing “policy limits” and other coverage information to third party claimants before a lawsuit is filed. [Ins.C. § 791.13; Griffith v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co. (1991) 230 CA3d 59, 69–70, 281 CR 165, 170–171]. However, insurers can usually be persuaded to obtain the insured’s consent to furnish this information. From a defense  perspective, withholding policy limits information may be counterproductive. Plaintiffs can always obtain this information by filing suit and conducting discovery. Forcing a plaintiff to litigate in order to obtain pertinent coverage information may serve only to drive up legal costs and inhibit productive negotiations. [See Boicourt v. Amex Assur. Co. (2000) 78 CA4th 1390, 1392–1399, 93 CR2d 763, 765–769] Indeed, an insurer’s refusal to contact its insured or disclose policy limits creates a conflict between the insurer (who is trying to induce a low settlement) and the insured (who wants a settlement within policy limits) … with the possible result of “bad faith” liability for any ensuing judgment that exceeds policy limits. [Boicourt v. Amex Assur. Co., supra, 78 CA4th at 1392, 93 CR2d at 764 —“a liability insurer ‘is playing with fire’ when it refuses to disclose policy limits”].

Apart from information about insurance coverage, plaintiff’s counsel ordinarily cannot obtain pretrial discovery of a defendant’s financial condition. Except in punitive damages cases, the right of privacy normally protects this information. Thus, in most cases, plaintiff’s counsel’s investigation of a defendant’s financial status necessarily must stop short with obtaining insurance coverage information. Where there is a possibility of “excess liability” (beyond policy limits) or where a likely defendant is uninsured, it simply may not be possible to get an accurate picture of “financial worthiness.” It would be best to seek personal assistance from a lawyer in order to guide you with your personal injury case.

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