John Mallon is a vice-chair of the committee, and a partner with Chasan Leyner & Lamparello in Secaucus. Robert Baxter is a partner with Wardell, Craig, Annin & Baxter in Haddonfield, and chair of the New Jersey State Bar Association's Insurance Defense Committee.
They spoke recently about the wide range of cases they handle, the work of the committee and trends in the field.
Q: The Insurance Defense Committee is a fairly new addition to the state bar. What was the impetus behind its formation?
RB: It was created over the summer of last year. About half of our committee is made up of in-house attorneys working in insurance companies, and then there are people who work in law firms and their clients are insurance companies or joint insurance funds. The perception among the lawyers who do this kind of work is that their views might not have been percolating. We function like any other state bar committee.
JM: Our primary focus is on legislation and amicus matters that affect our practice as lawyers for insurance companies. There are a number of people who do this work and we didn't previously have the voice we have now.
Q: What have you learned from working with other members of the committee?
RB: We are not a monolithic committee. There are many different views on our committee. Even at the first meeting where we took a position on a bill about what should be considered for underwriting, it was eye opening. The discussion among individuals who were in-house at different carriers was interesting. Their carriers all did things differently.
JM: There has been an exchange of ideas at meetings and by e-mail. This gives you a forum to bounce things off of some other folks who do the same work.
Q: What issues do attorneys in the insurance defense field face these days?
RB: An awful lot of the things we are concerned about are the same things any attorney who is a litigator is concerned about: best practices, discovery deadlines and those issues.
Q: How did you get involved in insurance defense work?
RB: My first job, and I was happy to get a job in 1975, was at Capehart & Scatchard in Camden. My first client I worked for was Selective Insurance, and I followed in those footsteps.
JM: I didn't go to law school directly from college. I needed a break. So I got a job for Allstate Insurance, working in their claims department, and went back to law school at night. I never left (the field.)
Q: What kinds of cases do you handle?
JM: It runs the gamut. You do have a lot of run-of-the-mill cases, but probably 25 percent of them are just things you couldn't make up. People get involve in all kinds of situations where they are being sued and their insurance company ends up representing them. Your everyday case where someone is in a car accident and gets hurt. You go from there to any kind of injury - bodily injury or property damage - that could happen and there is probably a type of insurance involved.
RB: Working for a joint insurance defense fund, cases include everything from a fall down to one I handled involving a K-9 officer who arrested someone and got sued. So, I was essentially representing a dog.