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

When you meet with a St. Petersburg personal injury lawyer, you expect the attorney to maintain your privacy. Most personal injury lawyers offer free consultations even before you hire them. And from there, you’ll undoubtedly communicate with your attorney countless times throughout your case 

However, what prevents the lawyer from sharing what you said with another party? The answer is attorney-client privilege. Learn about what it means and how it can affect your personal injury case here.

Defining Privilege in a Florida Personal Injury Case

Privilege refers to the discovery or disclosure of evidence in a legal case. Privileged information cannot be obtained through discovery requests. Several types of privilege could apply in a legal case:

A judge cannot force someone to disclose privileged information except in rare situations. There would need to be a compelling legal reason or an exception before the court could compel you or your lawyer to disclose privileged information.

When Does Attorney-Client Privilege Apply in a Florida Personal Injury Case?

Attorney-client privilege prohibits confidential communications between an attorney and their client from being subject to discovery or orders to compel disclosure. Privilege attaches once you establish an attorney-client relationship with a St. Petersburg personal injury lawyer. 

There are four basic requirements for privilege to attach to an attorney-client relationship:

  • This disclosure of information occurred between an attorney and a client or possible client;
  • The purpose of communicating with the lawyer was for the person to obtain advice regarding a legal matter;
  • The person had a reasonable expectation that any information they disclosed during the meeting would remain private and confidential; and,
  • The attorney’s conduct during the meeting was within the conduct of his professional capacity as a lawyer.

You must have the expectation of privacy. Therefore, if a third party can overhear your conversation, privilege might not apply. For example, a conversation with an attorney in a restaurant or in an elevator where someone can overhear the conversation might not be privileged. 

Does Privilege Apply to Communications With a Lawyer During a Free Consultation?

There are several views regarding whether privilege applies during a free consultation with a personal injury lawyer. It could be argued that you met all the above requirements during the free consultation. Therefore, privilege should apply.

However, you have not hired the attorney when you disclose information during an initial consultation. Until you sign the retainer agreement, the lawyer does not represent you regarding any matters. 

Talk with the lawyer if you are concerned about disclosing confidential information during a free consultation. Ask them if the information you discuss will remain confidential and protected under attorney-client privilege. 

Should I Waive Attorney-Client Privilege in a Personal Injury Lawsuit?

When you file a personal injury lawsuit, the parties participate in discovery. Discovery is the process of obtaining evidence and information from the other party. 

Parties use depositions, requests for admissions, interrogatories, and requests to produce to obtain documents and information from the other side. A judge can compel a party to respond to discovery requests.

However, if the information requested is protected by attorney-client privilege, your lawyer is not required to disclose it. You can waive attorney-client privilege so that your attorney can disclose information that is usually privileged. Sometimes, you want to disclose information to build a stronger case.

For example, it could be embarrassing if an injury resulted in the inability to engage in sexual relations. The intimate details might not be included in medical records.

However, that information is a significant factor in determining how much your personal injury case is worth. Therefore, disclosing the information is in your best interest.

Whether you should waive attorney-client privilege depends on the situation and the information being disclosed. Your attorney should discuss the matter with you before disclosing any confidential information. 

Are There Instances When Attorney-Client Privilege Does Not Apply?

There are exceptions to attorney-client privilege. In specific situations, attorneys can be compelled to disclose information typically considered privileged.

Examples of situations where attorney-client privilege might not apply include:

  • A lawyer represents two or more parties in a case, and a dispute regarding the joint representation arises
  • A client or potential client asks the attorney for information about how to commit fraud or other crime
  • The client dies, and the person’s heirs file a lawsuit regarding the person’s probate estate
  • Law enforcement officers have probable cause to believe communications between an inmate and their attorney is being used to hide terrorism 

There could be other situations where a court might breach attorney-client privilege. Sometimes, part of a conversation might be privileged, but the rest of the conversation is not. 

What Types of Things Should I Tell My St. Petersburg Personal Injury Lawyer?

At the heart of attorney-client privilege is the incentive for a client to be honest with their attorney. A lawyer cannot represent their client to the best of their ability unless the attorney has all the information about a case. Therefore, you should tell your personal injury attorney everything.

Two examples of information you should disclose to a personal injury lawyer immediately are:

Pre-Existing Conditions

A pre-existing condition is any health condition you had at the time of the accident or injury. Injuries from prior accidents and diseases count as pre-existing conditions. 

Insurance companies often use pre-existing conditions to deny or undervalue claims. The company alleges that your current condition is the result of a prior accident or medical condition. Therefore, you should not receive compensation from the at-fault party.

Your attorney needs to know about all medical conditions and prior accidents immediately. They need to prepare a defense to the insurance company’s allegations it is not responsible for your damages based on a pre-existing condition. 

Contributory Fault

If you believe you could be partially to blame for the cause of your injury, tell your lawyer immediately. Tell your attorney why you believe you could be partially to blame. Your lawyer will investigate the accident to determine how it happened and who is at fault.

Contributory fault could significantly impact how much money you receive for a personal injury claim. The quicker you tell your lawyer your suspicions, the sooner they can try to resolve a potential problem.

Don’t Be Afraid To Be Honest With Your St. Petersburg Personal Injury Lawyer

An attorney’s strategy for winning a personal injury case is based on the facts unique to the situation. Without all of the facts, your lawyer cannot prepare a solid case to support payment in full of all economic and non-economic damages. 

The last place an attorney wants to hear information about their client is during a deposition or in the courtroom. Tell your attorney even if you do not believe the information is relevant to your case. Let your lawyer be the one to decide what information is relevant.

Contact the Pinellas County Personal Injury Law Firm Of Perenich, Caulfield, Avril & Noyes Personal Injury Lawyers for Help

For more information, please contact the Clearwater and St. Petersburg personal injury law firm of Perenich, Caulfield, Avril & Noyes Personal Injury Lawyers at the nearest location to schedule a free consultation today.

We serve in Pinellas County and its surrounding areas:

Perenich, Caulfield, Avril & Noyes Personal Injury Lawyers – Clearwater
1875 N Belcher Rd. STE 201,
Clearwater, FL 33765,
United States
(727) 796-8282

Perenich, Caulfield, Avril & Noyes Personal Injury Lawyers – St. Petersburg
2560 1st Ave S,
St. Petersburg, FL 33712,
United States
(727) 349-1728