HARRISBURG — A Pennsylvania appellate court has ruled that a transportation company doesn’t have to release documents it says are privileged in a case stemming from a deadly, multi-vehicle accident in Cumberland County, according to a decision filed on April 20 in the Superior Court of Pennsylvania.
The appeal was heard by judges Judith Ference Olson, Lilian Harris Ransom and Mary Jane Bowes, who penned the court’s decision.
The appellate judges ruled that the trial court erred in compelling FFE Transportation Services to produce communications between its representatives and law firm Pion, Nerone, Girman, Winslow & Smith P.C. about their investigation into the wreck, finding that the documents are shielded from disclosure by the attorney-client privilege.
FFE Transportation Services Inc. had appealed a discovery order filed in the Court of Common Pleas of Cumberland County.
“We concluded that the communications contained therein are protected by the attorney-client privilege, and therefore subject to non-disclosure,” Bowes wrote in the order.
The case stems from a multi-vehicle accident that occurred in 2014 on Interstate 76 in Cumberland County. Leslie Van Every’s husband, David, died as a result of injuries he allegedly sustained in the wreck. She filed suit against FFE Transportation Services in November 2015.
In her complaint, Van Every claims that an FFE tractor-trailer driven by an employee blocked lanes of traffic on the highway, which allegedly caused the wreck. FFE Transportation Services said that one of its drivers may have been operating a truck near the accident, but it claims that it was unable to confirm if that was true.
During discovery, Van Every requested documents pertaining to the investigation that FFE Transportation Services conducted to identify the FFE tractor-trailer and its driver, according to the appellate court’s decision. FFE Transportation Services objected to the disclosure.
The seven documents that FFE Transportation Services identified as privileged included emails between its representatives and members of the Pion law firm about their joint investigation into the matter. However, the lower court ordered the company to produce the communications anyway.
FFE Transportation Services appealed the order, and the appellate court sided with the company.
“FFE is a client of the Pion law firm…” Bowes wrote in the decision. “The email communications relate to facts which the attorneys were informed of by FFE… and [were] not for the purpose of committing a crime or tort. Finally, the privilege was timely invoked and not waived… While Van Every claims that FFE must disclose all communications regarding such facts, this is simply not the law of Pennsylvania. The attorney-client privilege attaches to communications between an attorney and a client in preparation for litigation even if the discussion in the interview concerns merely factual events.”