Judge recuses himself in insurance whistle-blower case
By Candace Heckman
SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER REPORTER
Friday, November 1, 2002
Washington state trial lawyers will have to wait and see whether two former insurance adjusters will be allowed to speak to them at a professional development seminar later this month.
The judge who was supposed to decide whether Farmers Insurance Exchange could silence its former employees told attorneys in Snohomish County Superior Court yesterday that he would have to recuse himself.
Commissioner Lester Stewart said that because he is insured by Farmers, he did not think he could make such an important decision that could affect himself.
The two former adjusters have been volunteering what Farmers says is insider information on how the company settles claims.
If a court were to order them not to speak, the public could be deprived of information about the industry, specifically, how insurance companies could get away with paying people unfairly low amounts for their injuries, said their attorney, Karen Koehler.
In a lawsuit filed last week, Farmers asked a court to gag two former employees and allow the company to debrief them on their knowledge of a little-known computer program called "Colossus."
Colossus, according to the company that licenses it, is an artificial intelligence program designed to mimic the human thought process. Colossus is used by some insurance companies to determine how much an injury is worth.
Under an agreement met outside of court yesterday, attorneys for the former adjusters and for Farmers agreed to let the company question the two of their knowledge and only afterward ask the court to make specific pieces of that knowledge secret.
It is still unclear whether the former adjusters will be allowed to speak at the Washington State Trial Lawyers Association seminar.