The decision of His Honour Judge McGill SC in the District Court of Queensland in the matter of AAI Ltd v Spangers has dismissed an application from an insurer seeking documents and information from a claimant. Essentially, The court prevented Suncorp from seeking irrelevant information from claimants.
Suncorp Sought Excessive Amounts of Information for Claim
AAI Ltd trades as Suncorp Insurance and provides various insurance products, including insurance for motor vehicles. On 25 January 2017, the Claimant was travelling as a passenger in a motor vehicle on the Bruce Highway. While driving there was a single-car accident, which injured the Claimant. He hurt his neck, left shoulder, lower back, and left hip. While he recovered from most of his injuries he had persistent shoulder problems and had shoulder surgery on two occasions.
The Claimant worked as a diesel fitter. He had largely been able to return to work. However, he was still struggling with his injuries and rehabilitation. On 13 June 2017, the Claimant brought a claim for damages for personal injuries under the Motor Accident Insurance Act 1994 (Qld). The Act permits insurers to ask claimants to provide additional information. This information is in support of their claim. In particular, Insurers use the information to provide additional information about the injuries that are the subject of the claim. The Insurer in this case asked for documents and more information from the Claimant. The Claimant endeavoured to provide those documents and the information requested. The Insurer was not satisfied with the documents provided and the level of detail in the information requested.
Suncorp Sought Court Order to Receive Information
Consequently, the Insurer brought an application in the District Court of Queensland. The Court heard the application on 17 September 2019. The Insurer sought orders for the Court to direct the Claimant to answer certain questions and provide certain documents. Judge McGill SC found it unnecessary to order the Claimant to answer those questions or provide those documents. Consequently the application failed. Relevantly His Honour mused on the subject of the necessity of providing gross pay, weekly tax and net pay figures. His Honour noted that His Honour could not recall an occasion when it had been relevant to know all three of those figures in a claim for damages for personal injuries. As a result, The Court did not order the Claimant to provide that information.
Suncorp Prevented From Seeking Irrelevant Information
His Honour discussed a tendency in the last twenty years for original documents not to be provided in litigation. His Honour noted that photocopies were put in evidence, with neither party taking objection. On this same subject, His Honour said that typewriters appear to have gone the way of steam engines. Regardless, it is best practice to ensure original documents are used in evidence. In respect of information that a Claimant should provide, His Honour noted that an insurer must reasonably request the information, and it must be relevant to the claim. In His Honour’s opinion, if questioning becomes too wide, the process can be oppressive, which can frustrate and delay a claim rather than assist in speedy resolution.
His Honour considered some examples of what would and would not be relevant. His Honour considered a childhood bout of chickenpox or mumps, that a person recovered from, would not be relevant to a claim. The matters which are relevant have bearing on the assessment of the quantum of a claim. For example, where a person suffers a fracture which heals without adverse effects, but there is a known increased risk of osteoarthritis in the future. His Honour considered that would be something which ought to be disclosed.
What This Means for Future Cases
Clearly the relevance of a piece of information will differ on a case by case basis. The important exercise is to consider the relevance and therefore admissibility of the evidence. That is to say that if something is not relevant, it is not admissible, and if so, for an Insurer to require disclosure of something that is not relevant or admissible would be oppressive. The Insurer’s application failed. His Honour considered awarding costs in the Claimant’s favour, but instead decided to avoid over-complicating matters. Instead His Honour made no order as to costs.
This case is instructive as to the appropriateness or otherwise of requests from insurers for documents and information. It is important to understand the rules of evidence to ensure the expeditious resolution of the issues in conflict between the parties.