Insurer’s Claims Manuals Were Not Trade Secrets

Woo v. Fireman's Fund Insurance (March 5, 2007)
Fireman’s Fund’s claims manuals were admitted as exhibits at trial in a bad faith action. When the plaintiff wanted to use them in a seminar, Fireman’s Fund moved to have the exhibits sealed on the ground that they were trade secrets. That motion was denied, and the court of appeals affirmed.

The court found that the testimony submitted by Fireman’s Fund regarding the value derived from the secrecy of its claims manuals and the potential prejudice from their distribution was speculative and conclusory. The court observed that the manuals “simply set out good claims practices and philosophies that would be obvious to any insurance company setting out to prepare a claims manual.” The court also observed that Woo wanted to distribute the manuals because they “directly contradict insurers’ frequent claims about what is reasonable claim handling.” The court characterized Woo’s interest in the manuals as “similar to a newspaper’s interest in publicizing documents deemed newsworthy,” which is “not the same as proving that the document itself deprives independent economic value from not being known.”