A party is entitled to mandamus relief when it can show that a trial court “clearly abused its discretion” and that the party “lacks an adequate remedy by appeal.” When a trial court denies a party’s request for discovery on improper grounds, thereby preventing the party from “developing a defense that goes to the heart of its case,” the trial court has abused its discretion, and mandamus relief might be appropriate.
In a recent decision, In Re Liberty County Mutual Insurance Company, the Texas Supreme Court agreed with the insurer that the Trial Court abused its discretion when it granted the Plaintiff’s Motion to Quash Discovery, conditionally granting a Writ of Mandamus for the insurer.
After settling with the other driver involved in the accident, Plaintiff Thalia Harris sued her insurer, Liberty County Mutual, for underinsured motorist (UIM) benefits. This action brought Harris’s claimed amount of damages into dispute and Liberty sought production of Harris’s medical records from her primary care physician. In moving to quash Liberty’s request for discovery, Harris argued that the request (originally covering a time period of fifteen years) was overly broad and would include information not relevant to the dispute. At argument on the Motion, Liberty’s counsel agreed to greatly narrow the scope of the request and emphasized that all privileged and irrelevant information should be withheld. The Trial Court ultimately sided with Harris, granting her Motion to Quash, and ordering Liberty to pay $2,000.00 as a sanction. Liberty then sought mandamus relief, which was denied by the Appellate Court.
The Texas Supreme Court agreed with Liberty that the grant of the Motion to Quash severely compromised Liberty’s “ability to present a viable defense at trial,” making mandamus relief appropriate in this case. In bringing an action against Liberty for UIM benefits, Harris brought into dispute the other driver’s liability as well as the existence and amount of her damages. Having previously held that information about the insured’s pre-existing medical condition at the time of the accident is relevant to the insurer’s damages defense, the Court concluded that Liberty’s requests for discovery sought relevant information and, with the reduced timeframe, were not overly broad or disproportionate. The Court conditionally granted the Writ of Mandamus, ordering the Trial Court to vacate its order to quash and set aside the order to pay sanctions based on the erroneous grant of the Motion to Quash.
For defense attorneys, this Texas Supreme Court decision suggests that mandamus relief should be pursued any time a trial court denies a request for discovery that impedes one’s “ability to present a viable defense at trial.” Pursuing mandamus relief might make the difference between obtaining the information necessary for a successful trial and completely missing out on that information.