New WSBA Advisory Opinion on ‘Quadripartite’ Relationships

Illustration of four attorneys

The WSBA Committee on Professional Ethics recently released advisory opinion No. 201802 addressing “quadripartite” relationships.

“Tripartite” relationships among an insurer, the insured, and defense counsel have been delineated extensively in both court decisions and advisory opinions. “Quadripartite” relationships, by contrast, are a fairly new development and remain comparatively unplumbed. The term generally describes situations where a fourth party is added to the traditional three-cornered insurance defense relationship, such as an independent claims administrator or an employer that paid for the insurance covering its employee. The opinion assumes that, consistent with general Washington practice, insurance defense counsel in this new scenario represents the insured only.

The new advisory opinion focuses primarily on one element of this new arrangement: the extent to which insurance defense counsel can share information with the fourth party. Advisory Opinion 201802 takes a relatively similar approach to the new relationship as earlier authorities did with the more traditional tripartite relationship. It concludes that—with client consent—a defense lawyer can share confidential information with the fourth party if doing so is in the client’s interest and will not jeopardize the attorney-client privilege or work product protection. The opinion does not evaluate privilege or work product issues, which are controlled by substantive law and typically turn on the application of “common interest” principles. The opinion also counsels that a given situation may not remain static and should be re-evaluated if circumstances change and adversity arises between the client and the other parties to the arrangement.

Click here to read the full text of Advisory Opinion 201802.