What is Attorney/Client Privilege in a Virginia Personal Injury Case?

Virginia personal injury cases often require those involved to disclose sensitive and even uncomfortable personal details. This makes some accident victims reluctant to reach out to a personal injury attorney. Understanding what attorney/client privilege is and how it works can help put victims at ease.

Are there any exceptions to attorney/client privilege?

Communications with your personal injury attorney are protected by an ethics rule known as attorney/client privilege. This rule states that any information you share with your attorney is considered confidential. They may not share this information with anyone, including the opposing side during a subpoena or even the discovery process.

The Virginia personal injury attorneys at Shapiro, Washburn & Sharp have been helping those injured in personal injury accidents since 1985. If someone else’s negligence caused your injuries, the first step to pursuing financial compensation is a free consultation with one of our experienced lawyers.  

What Information Does Attorney/Client Privilege Cover?

In Virginia, attorney/client privilege is covered by Rule 1.6 of the Virginia State Bar Professional Guidelines. In order for your information to be considered privileged, there are multiple provisions that must be met, such as:

  • The communication or conversation took place between you and your lawyer
  • The purpose of the communication or conversation was to obtain advice on a legal matter
  • Your attorney was acting in their professional capacity during the communication or conversation
  • You both assumed and expected the communication or conversation would be confidential

When these requirements are satisfied, attorney/client privilege is in effect. The information or details you share with your lawyer or legal team are not the only information covered by attorney/client privilege. All forms of communication between a client and their lawyer are regarded as privileged information, including:

  • Text messages: It is not uncommon for attorneys and their clients to communicate via text messaging. When you text your lawyer, they are obligated to keep those messages confidential.
  • Phone calls: Private phone calls between attorney and client are also considered protected.
  • Letters: Letters addressed to your lawyer are confidential. However, if you send a copy to anyone else, you are putting that information in danger of being discovered by another party as attorney/client privilege would not apply.
  • Emails: Any emails between your attorney and you, where no one else has been copied or blind-copied, are also protected by attorney/client privilege.

As with other areas of the law, there are some exceptions to the rule. Not everything you say falls under the purview of attorney/client privilege. In fact, there are, however rare, some instances where an attorney might be legally bound to share otherwise personal information with a third party. 

What is Not Included in Attorney/Client Privilege?

Your personal injury lawyer is required to keep any information you share with them confidential, with some exceptions. For example, attorneys are required to notify the authorities if their client expresses an intent to commit a crime, such as fraud. They are also able to break attorney/client privilege if disclosure to the authorities would prevent bodily harm or death.  

There is no guarantee of confidentiality when you share information with anyone other than your lawyer. So, if you discuss your case in public where you can be overheard, there is no expectation of confidentiality. Additionally, anything you post on a social media platform is viewed as public information and is not subject to attorney/client privilege.

How Can Attorney/Client Privilege Impact My Case?

When you are the victim of a Virginia personal injury accident, you might have to share sensitive information with your attorney, such as details of your finances or physical symptoms relating to your injury. In order for your lawyer to do the best possible job when it comes to representing you, you need to give them as much information as you can so they can build the strongest case possible.

Being able to speak freely with your lawyer is one of the biggest advantages of a personal injury claim. If you think you were partly to blame for your accident, sharing this concern will help your lawyer figure out the best way to reduce your liability. Further, if you conceal important information such as a pre-existing condition, opposing counsel might find out and use the information against you.

When you provide your attorney with as many details as possible, it enables them to do their best to recover maximum financial compensation for your damages, which go towards your medical expenses, lost earnings, and pain and suffering. Remember, you are working with your attorney and part of that includes making sure you are giving them all the information they need.  

For example, sometimes clients are concerned about disclosing a pre-existing condition to us. However, insurance companies and defendant attorneys are likely going to discover a pre-existing condition because it is easy for a defense attorney representing an insurance company to subpoena all prior medical records. Sometimes our clients think that the other side will not discover a pre-existing condition but a defendant can also subpoena health insurance records, and then discover a pre-existing condition. Even if a pre-existing condition is disclosed to us that is considered attorney/client privileged information, we would have to disclose it later because pleadings to our clients routinely ask for all medical care in the prior number of years before the subject personal injury arose. 

What happens if our client has a felony in their past and they don’t want the insurance lawyer to find out? It’s the same scenario. Typically, this question about prior criminal activities, or convictions will be requested under oath, in what are called interrogatories, which are simply questions that must be answered under oath during any litigation in the personal injury case. Then, the same insurance attorneys will ask about prior felonies in an oral deposition as part of the litigation process.

This being said, it is always the best policy to disclose everything that could be relevant to your personal injury attorney under attorney/client privilege. Then your attorney can figure out when and how best to disclose the damaging information. In our extensive experience, representing personal injury clients it is always the best policy to disclose anything you believe could be damaging to your attorney in confidence, and let us decide how and when the disclosure occurs later.

Partner with a Respected Virginia Personal Injury Law Firm

If you were injured through no fault of your own, the Virginia Beach personal injury law firm of Shapiro, Washburn & Sharp can help. We are backed by more than five decades of combined experience, skill, and knowledge and adhere to attorney/client privilege from the moment your free consultation begins. Fill out the simple contact form on our website or call (833) 997-1774 to schedule yours today. 

Related Content