What Is Attorney-Client Privilege in a Personal Injury Claim?

If you decide to pursue financial compensation for an accident in New Jersey through a personal injury claim, hiring a Jersey City personal injury attorney can make an important difference to your legal experience and the outcome of your case. Throughout your claim, a legal concept called attorney-client privilege will protect the confidentiality of communications between you and your personal injury lawyer.

What Is Attorney-Client Privilege?

Attorney-client privilege protects confidential communications between a lawyer and his or her client that relate to legal advice or a case. Under this legal principle, an attorney who has entered into a contract to represent a client cannot lawfully disclose confidential information about the client or case to a third party. Written and oral communications between a client and his or her attorney are shielded from disclosure.

If attorney-client privilege exists, neither the attorney nor the client can be forced to disclose confidential information to the opposing party during a case. This legal doctrine protects clients and promotes honesty and transparency in communications with attorneys, as the client does not have to fear that it will be communicated to others. This allows the attorney to adequately represent a client with knowledge of all of the facts.

What Is Privileged Information?

It is a common misconception that all communications between a client and his or her attorney are automatically privileged. In reality, there are situations in which your conversations with a lawyer may not be protected. This includes actions you might take that break attorney-client privilege.

In the following situations, attorney-client privilege will not apply:

  • If a third party is present. The presence of a third party, meaning someone who is not the client or attorney, can break the sanctity of attorney-client privilege. If you bring a family member with you to a meeting with your attorney or an expert consultant is present, for example, nothing said during that meeting will be confidential.
  • If an attorney-client relationship does not exist. Attorney-client privilege only applies to communications made between an attorney and an individual who has signed a contract to become the attorney’s client. Asking a friend who is an attorney for legal advice, for instance, would not trigger attorney-client privilege or make that communication confidential.
  • If the client plans on committing a crime. Information given to an attorney about the planning of a crime that has not yet been committed is not privileged information. Any communications between a client and attorney that are made in furtherance of a crime or fraud are not protected by attorney-client privilege and can be disclosed in legal proceedings.

It is important to understand the scope and exceptions of your attorney-client protection if you hire a lawyer in New Jersey. While this privilege covers a wide range of communications between you and your lawyer, it has exceptions. Being aware of these exceptions to the rule can help you protect yourself during a claim.

What if My Attorney Breaches Attorney-Client Privilege?

If you have reason to believe that your attorney has breached your attorney-client privilege during your personal injury case by disclosing confidential information, document the breach and seek new legal representation.

Depending on the nature and severity of the breach, you may consider filing a formal complaint against the attorney with a regulatory authority in your state, such as the New Jersey State Bar Association. You could also take legal action against the attorney for legal malpractice or a breach of contract.