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High court says past settlement up for discovery

A St. Louis County woman’s car accident settlement is available for discovery in her negligence claim involving a hospital bed malfunctioning and allegedly injuring her.

During a 2017 hospital stay recovering from back injuries, Kristine Hill and her husband alleged that her hospital bed had malfunctioned and fell while she was in it, causing back and spine injuries. Six months later, she agreed to a settlement from a car crash incident that occurred six months after the hospital stay.

The hospital — the party in the first claim — sought discovery of the car crash settlement documents and related communication not protected by attorney-client privilege in St. Louis County Circuit Court, which granted their affirmative defense to reduce the claim. The Missouri Court of Appeals Eastern District disagreed with the lower court, but the Missouri Supreme Court favored the hospital on appeal after oral arguments on Oct. 26 last year.

The Hills claimed that the documents and communication about the documents are protected ordinary work product. Hill had filed a claim with the insurance provider of the at-fault driver and settled the claim. The Missouri Supreme Court determined that because she disclosed to the insurer, a third-party adversary, she waived her right for the settlement and related communications to be protected.

“Once the Hills disclosed the documents to any adversary, they waived work product protection of the settlement release and e-mail correspondence in the motor vehicle accident case and any subsequent case in which the documents would otherwise be discoverable,” Chief Justice Paul C. Wilson wrote.

Patrick Dowd of Holland Law Firm in St. Louis represented the Hills. He did not respond to a call requesting comment. Dennis Harms of Sandberg Phoenix & von Gontard represented the hospital. He did not respond to a call requesting comment.

The case resulted in a joint dismissal with prejudice on April 6.

The case is Hill and Hill v. Wallach, SC99650.