The Iowa Court of Appeals recently affirmed a jury’s conclusion that detailed information about insurance policy holders was a protected trade secret. Monona County Mutual Insurance Association v. The Hoffman Agency, Inc., Case No. 0-640/10-0136 (Iowa Ct. App. Nov. 24, 2010). The customer information at issue, which was kept in a vault to which access was very limited and which was not shared with the public, included customer names, the type of insurance coverage held by each customer, policy expiration dates and the premiums paid for such policies. This information is used by insurance agents to contact customers before their policies have expired “to see if the customer’s needs have changed and to ensure the customer’s continued business.” An expert witness testified that this information “went to the heart of a business” and that if a competitor received such information, “business would essentially be handed to the competitor on a plate.” Although the defendant claimed that this information “was readily available to it” and therefore not a trade secret, the Court rejected that argument, explaining that it was unclear how the defendant “would know who to contact and when, without the information contained on the list.”
While this decision does not break new legal ground, it nevertheless illustrates the significance of customer information in the insurance industry and the need to take appropriate steps to maintain its secrecy.