Go to navigation Go to content
Toll-Free: 800-752-0042
Phone: 757-460-7776
Shapiro & Appleton

What It Means To Be An Ethical Personal Injury Attorney in Virginia

In today’s era of suspicions about personal injury lawyers, and the motives of personal injury victims, a person looking to hire a personal injury lawyer needs to understand how important attorney ethics are in the modern world.  While every state regulates the ethical conduct of lawyers, just as in any business, there are a wide range of personal injury lawyer practices, ranging from the highest ethical conduct, to the questionable or even unethical personal injury lawyer conduct.  The purpose of this article is to go over some of the personal injury lawyer ethics temptations and lawyer’s ethical obligations, and answer some of the questions personal injury victims have actually asked our law firm and lawyers in the past: 

Q:

Will an ethical personal injury lawyer tell me what my case is worth in the first initial consultation phone call? 

A:

No highly ethical personal injury lawyer would tell you what your case is worth even after one long phone call, because without reviewing your actual medical records, and sifting through some of the evidence, no lawyer could put a reasonable settlement or verdict range on something based on one phone call.  While it is true that an experienced personal injury lawyer can tell you whether the liability or fault of a potential party seems solid or not after one phone call, an ethical lawyer would likely say “you have a good case”.  Many times our potential personal injury clients ask us what the case is worth, right away. In my view, it would be extremely poor ethical conduct to state that a case is worth a certain amount of money on such limited facts. Further, most state lawyer ethics requirements state that attorneys cannot guarantee a particular result or success. 

Q:

Can an ethical personal injury lawyer give me cash for my living expenses right away because I am out of work due to a personal injury? 

A:

In many states, including Virginia, it is unethical for a personal injury lawyer to pay for daily living expenses for a client.  [Note: there are a very small number of states that permit lawyers to make loans or advances.  This outline is based on Virginia practice.  Also, some state ethics rules allow paying expenses on behalf of “indigent clients.”]  However, while most states prohibit personal injury lawyers from making loans for living expenses to a client, an attorney can guide a potential client to a business or loan company that may provide money to a personal injury victim, and repayment obligations become a claim against the personal injury settlement or verdict.  As a matter of fact, in the last five years these companies that loan to personal injury victims have flourished around the United States and many such companies exist.  The downside of these types of loans is that the interest rates tend to be fairly significant, and obviously the rate is a whole lot higher than mortgage or car loan interest rates, but these companies often are the only ones that will make loans to personal injury victims that are out of work.  So, there is a trade off, but a personal injury lawyer can direct a client to one or more of these loan companies to help the client get by while they are suffering losses from a personal injury, such as lost wages, medical expense, etc. 

Q:

I have a prior car accident claim, and I was in second car accident and have new injuries.  Must my personal injury lawyer disclose this to the adverse insurance company? 

A:

Some clients are hesitant to tell us about a prior car accident or worker’s compensation claim whether a year before, or 10 years before they were in a new accident that we are representing them for now.  No ethical personal injury lawyer will purposefully commit a fraud or purposefully conceal facts that must be properly disclosed.  On the other hand, a personal injury lawyer does not need to disclose, in a written letter to an insurance company (prior to a lawsuit), anything that the personal injury lawyer does not feel is relevant to the current accidental injury case.  However, if the question is must your prior car accident or worker’s compensation claim be disclosed if the new case goes into litigation, the answer is that it usually must be disclosed, but this is not necessarily a bad thing.  In fact, persons who have suffered a second back injury or second injury to the same body part, generally have a more difficult recovery because they have a pre-existing condition from the first accident. Actually, personal injury lawyers call this an aggravation of a pre-existing condition.  It is well known to doctors that a re-injury or aggravation of a prior injury can be a very painful “new” re-injury that can cause chronic problems over many years.  In many cases we turn what the client believes is a negative into a positive by showing a re-injury involving pain and significant scarring and this may assist us in obtaining maximum compensation for a client. 

Q:

I was in a car accident last week and suffered whiplash type injuries, but I did go to a doctor for therapy for my neck just a year ago.  Is my lawyer going to tell the insurance carrier about this? 

A:

Again, the best policy is to disclose everything at the appropriate time because an adverse party is entitled to know all issues relating to prior injuries to a currently injured part of the body (that has been previously injured).  Any ethical personal injury lawyer will give appropriate advice to a potential client in that regard as the prior records will likely be subpoenaed at some time if litigation is required.  Insurance lawyers have experience in sniffing out any prior treatment by carefully reviewing records, obtaining health insurance company subpoenas, and similar tactics.

 

 

Richard N. Shapiro
Personal Injury & Wrongful Death Lawyer Serving Va Beach, Norfolk, Chesapeake & all of Virginia
Avvo The Best lawyers in America Super lawyers Best Law Firms US News Verdicts and Settlements AV LexisNexis

Live Chat