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Queensland court rules against ordering insurance disclosure

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The Queensland Supreme Court has ruled against forcing the disclosure of insurance policy details in a class action case after rulings in previous disputes pointing to the practice becoming more common.

The decision by Justice Debra Mullins relates to an action against Advanta Seeds over the sale of allegedly contaminated sorghum. The company had already disclosed it was not insured, except for the claim of one of the class action group members.

“The plaintiffs may have been proceeding on the mistaken understanding the defendant was insured,” Justice Mullins says in the ruling.

“But that mistake is no reason for the plaintiffs to be given disclosure of the defendant’s insurance policy with Vero and the documents relevant to the defendant’s assertion that it is not insured, when there is no dispute between the defendant and Vero about that position.”

Justice Mullins said it is also relevant that the defendant has substantial assets and is continuing to operate a profitable business.

The request was criticised by the defence as “a fishing expedition which is vexatious”.

A previous ruling in the Radio Rentals class action in the Federal Court ordered disclosure, but Justice Mullins says there were different circumstances in the Advanta Seeds case.

Lawyers Allens Linklaters say the judgement provides some potential qualifications to the reasoning in the Radio Rentals decision, where there were concerns about the defendant’s deteriorating finances.

“It is apparent from Justice Mullins’ reasoning that the defendant’s financial circumstances, and the broader circumstances of the proceedings in which the application is made, will influence whether the court will exercise its discretion to make an order for disclosure,” the law firm says.

The judgement can be found here.