The absolute litigation privilege under Civ. Code 47(b) did not immunize coverage counsel’s transmission of the claimant’s tax returns to the insurer and its forensic accountant.  Counsel transmitted the returns while the insurer was still investigating the claim and before litigation was imminent or necessarily contemplated.  The claimant stated a viable invasion of privacy claim.  Tax returns are privileged.  Ins. Code 2071 requires insurers to notify insureds of this fact and that assertion of the privilege may cause a denial of their claims for policy benefits.  Here, the claimant asserted his privilege and the coverage counsel obtained the tax returns only through an inadvertent disclosure by the claimant’s accountant.  On the other hand, claimant’s elder abuse claim was properly dismissed.  The claimant asserted that coverage counsel had assisted the insurer in withholding policy benefits, sums to which he, a senior citizen, was entitled.  The decision holds that this claim is an attempt to evade the holding in Gruenberg v. Aetna Ins. Co. (1973) 9 Cal.3d 566 that only the insurer and not its agents may be held liable for bad faith denial of an insurance claim.  Nothing in the elder abuse law or its legislative history indicate any legislative intent to abrogate or carve an exception to Gruenberg’s holding.

California Court of Appeal, First District, Division 2 (Kline, P.J.); January 4, 2019; 30 Cal. App. 5th 1087