Breaking Down Attorney-Client Privilege: What it Means and How it Can Affect Your Case

It can be difficult to disclose sensitive, private details about your life. However, when you hire a personal injury lawyer, you need to tell the attorney everything you know about the accident and your injuries. 

There could be some information that you might not want to become public knowledge. So how can you be sure what you tell your attorney remains private and confidential? 

The attorney-client privilege protects the information you disclose to your attorney. However, there are a few exceptions. Understanding the attorney-client privilege can help you feel more secure when disclosing information to your lawyer.

What is Attorney-Client Privilege in a Personal Injury Case?

The attorney-client privilege refers to the legal right to keep information between you and your attorney confidential and private. Privilege means that the information is not subject to discovery by other parties. It also means that the court cannot order you or your attorney to disclose privileged information in court. 

For privilege to attach to information and conversations, you must meet the four conditions for attorney-client privilege:

  • The communication and disclosures took place between you and the attorney
  • The purpose of the information disclosed was to obtain legal advice from the attorney
  • The attorney was acting in their professional capacity when receiving the information 
  • You reasonably expected that the information you provided to the attorney would be held in confidence

There must be an attorney-client relationship for privilege to attach to the conversation or disclosure. For example, you create an attorney-client relationship when you pay a retainer fee or sign a retainer agreement hiring the attorney to represent you in a legal matter. However, what happens when you disclose information during a free consultation?

Some sources state that attorney-client privilege attaches to a free consultation if the consultation meets the above four criteria for privilege. For example, you make an appointment to talk with an accident attorney about a car crash. You might not have hired the attorney yet, but you:

  • Communicated directly with the lawyer
  • Your communication was to obtain legal advice about the car crash
  • The attorney acted in his professional capacity to give you legal advice about the car accident
  • You expect the information you provide during the free consultation to remain private and confidential

Under those circumstances, privilege should attach to information disclosed during the free consultation. If you have any doubt, ask the personal injury attorney before disclosing information about a specific matter. 

Are Their Exceptions to the Attorney-Client Privilege?

There are instances in which an attorney might be forced to turn over the information disclosed by a client. A client may also waive privilege for specific information. Examples of situations where attorney-client privilege might not apply include:

  • A personal injury client waiving privilege for their lawyer to disclose information about the client’s intimate relationship with their spouse for a loss of consortium claim
  • A client seeking legal advice to help them with a crime they intend to commit
  • The client passes away, and their heirs sue each other over the client’s estate
  • The lawyer represented two clients regarding the same matter, and the clients later sued each other reading that matter
  • A prisoner requests information or legal advice to commit terrorist acts 

It is also important to understand that privilege does not attach to every piece of information an attorney has regarding a client. For example, the general nature of the legal services performed or the duration of the attorney-client relationship is not privileged information. In addition, factual circumstances might not be privileged, such as the date and time of appointments or who attended the appointments. 

Furthermore, if the other party may obtain the facts from another source, the information is not confidential. Also, the communication may not be privileged if the client communicates with the attorney through public means, such as social media. If the client tells his attorney sensitive information in a crowded elevator, the client should not expect privacy or confidentiality. 

What Types of Information Should You Disclose to Your Personal Injury Lawyer?

Attorney-client privilege makes clients feel more confident when disclosing information to their attorney. Your attorney needs to know everything about your case. Holding information from your lawyer could hurt your chance of recovering maximum compensation for your injury claim.

Examples of information that a client should disclose to their personal injury attorney include, but are not limited to:

  • Prior accidents or injuries
  • Pre-existing conditions
  • Anticipating filing for divorce
  • The need to file for bankruptcy relief
  • Whether you are partially to blame for the cause of your injury, which could lead to contributory fault allegations
  • Prior arrests or convictions for criminal charges
  • Whether you were charged with a traffic violation or crime related to the cause of your injury
  • All personal injury claims you have filed before the current personal injury case
  • Any new injuries you sustained after the accident that resulted in your personal injury claim
  • All symptoms you experience after the accident (also tell your medical providers)

If you have any doubt whether your attorney needs to know something, err on the side of caution. It is better to tell your attorney too much information than to leave out information that could impact the outcome of your personal injury case. 

Why Does An Attorney Need to Know About Prior Accidents and Pre-Existing Conditions?

Your attorney needs to have all information relevant to your case to assess the strengths and weaknesses of the case. Information you might consider non-relevant could be the piece of evidence that helps you win your case. 

The insurance company for the other party may use pre-existing conditions and prior accidents against you. It may argue that the accident did not cause your current injuries. 

However, you are entitled to compensation when an accident worsens a current health condition. When your lawyer knows about prior conditions, he can prepare a defense against those allegations. 

The attorney-client privilege protects you from incriminating yourself in court. In addition, it protects people from discovering confidential information you want to remain private. 

However, privilege also gives clients peace of mind. They know they can tell their attorney everything about their case. Attorney-client privilege keeps the information safe and protected.

Contact Our Personal Injury Law Firm For Help Today

For more information, please contact Bradley Law Personal Injury Lawyers at your nearest location to schedule a free case evaluation today.

St. Louis Office
1424 Washington Ave Suite #300 St. Louis, MO 63103
(314) 400-0000

Kansas City Office
1509 NE Parvin Rd, Suite A., Kansas City, MO 64116
(816) 408-3448

Or if you would prefer to reach out to us online, please visit our contact us page.