Thompson v. Polaris, Inc.
Public Justice is pleased to report an amicus victory in Thompson v. Polaris Inc., a Minnesota Supreme Court case decided in December 2021. Polaris, a leading manufacturer of outdoor powersports vehicles, attempted to conceal a safety audit report—relevant evidence in the case—by claiming attorney-client privilege.
Polaris is facing product liability litigation across the country involving its RZR vehicles that unexpectedly erupt in flames and are linked to dozens of burn injuries and at least four deaths. In response to a notice of investigation from the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission, Polaris retained outside counsel to evaluate its safety processes and policies.
The resulting audit report outlined how Polaris could better comply with the Consumer Product Safety Act. Polaris accidentally shared this report during discovery, but quickly tried to shield it with attorney-client privilege.
Public Justice filed an amicus brief in the case that outlines the dangers of this over-expansive application of attorney-client privilege. The Court agreed and held that the predominant purpose of the safety report was business advice, not legal advice, the former of which is not protected by attorney-client privilege.
This decision curtails corporations’ ability to evade accountability by claiming attorney-client privilege over all documents prepared by lawyers—including safety audits, incident reports, and other operational documents. Consumers have the right to know if a product is defective or dangerous, and this win will ensure disclosure of such threats to public safety.