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Rico v. Mitsubishi Motors Corp - 42 Cal. 4th 807, 68 Cal. Rptr. 3d 758, 171 P.3d 1092

Rule:

The codified work product doctrine absolutely protects from discovery writings that contain an attorney's impressions, conclusions, opinions, or legal research or theories. Code Civ. Proc., § 2018.030, subd. (a). The protection extends to an attorney's written notes about a witness's statements. When a witness's statement and the attorney's impressions are inextricably intertwined, the work product doctrine provides that absolute protection is afforded to all of the attorney's notes.

Facts:

Various plaintiffs sued defendant automobile manufacturer after a sport utility vehicle rolled over while being driven on a freeway. The defense moved to disqualify plaintiff’s legal team and experts, alleging that an attorney representing plaintiffs obtained through inadvertence notes of one of the defense attorneys and used them during a deposition to impeach a defense expert. The trial court granted the motion and the court of appeals affirmed.

Issue:

Was the disqualification of plaintiffs’ legal team proper when it presented notes that were obtained through inadvertence from the defense attorney?

Answer:

Yes.

Conclusion:

The Court held that the disqualification of plaintiffs' legal team and experts was proper, where plaintiffs' attorney obtained through inadvertence a defense attorney's notes and used them during a deposition to impeach a defense expert. The notes were absolutely protected work product under Code Civ. Proc., § 2018.030. plaintiffs' attorney should not have read the document any more closely than was necessary to ascertain that it was privileged. Once it became apparent that the content was privileged, plaintiffs' attorney should have immediately notified defense counsel and tried to resolve the situation. The notes were absolutely protected work product under Code Civ. Proc., § 2018.030nbecause they contained the ideas of the defense attorney and his legal team about the case.

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