5 Things You Need to Tell Your Lawyer

You should never withhold information from your lawyer if there is any chance that information could affect your personal injury lawsuit. It is better for your lawyer to receive potentially damaging or embarrassing information from you than from opposing counsel or some other third party. The following are five of the most important things you must disclose to your lawyer:

1. Tell Your Lawyer Your Entire Criminal History

At your initial meeting with your lawyer, you should disclose your entire criminal history (felonies and misdemeanors only — you can spare him unrelated traffic infractions and parking tickets). Your attorney will not run a background check on you, but you can bet opposing counsel will. Your lawyer should not hear about your criminal record for the first time when opposing counsel asks you about it at your deposition (and he will ask).

Convictions for misdemeanors involving dishonesty (such as fraud or theft) and all felonies can be used to impeach your credibility as a witness. If your lawyer knows in advance about these convictions, he can help prepare you to answer questions about them. If the convictions are sufficiently old (more than 10 or 15 years usually, depending on your state) your lawyer may be able to keep them out of your trial entirely. I advise that you disclose all arrests and let your lawyer determine whether they are relevant to your case. Most lawyers do not balk at a client with some criminal history. Of course, if you have 10 convictions for insurance fraud, you may (and probably should) find that no lawyer wants to represent you.

A final warning about criminal history disclosure: if you fail to disclose your criminal history to opposing counsel in your interrogatory answers (which are answered in writing and under oath) the court may sanction you for your lie of omission. This sanction could be dismissal of your lawsuit. So, be sure your lawyer knows your entire criminal history.

2. Tell Your Lawyer About Prior Accidents, Injuries and Illnesses

Your lawyer needs to know what condition you were in before your accident to determine what injuries can be claimed in your lawsuit. To get a complete picture of your pre-existing conditions, your lawyer needs to know about all prior accidents (car accidents, slip & falls, work injuries, etc.), regardless of the type of accident which caused your current injuries. In fact, you should tell your lawyer about any chronic medical conditions, even if they were not caused by an accident. You should also tell your lawyer about any prior mental health treatment, as this may effect any emotional distress claim you may have.

All of these prior accidents and illnesses will come out through your medical records or through opposing counsel’s background check, so there is no point in trying to hide them from your own lawyer.

3. Tell Your Lawyer About Subsequent Accidents and Injuries

As with prior accidents and injuries, you need to tell your lawyer if you suffer an injury after the one for which you are filing your lawsuit. Some subsequent injuries may be relatable to your lawsuit, such as a fall that was caused due to the knee you injured suddenly giving out.

If you are involved in a minor accident after your lawsuit is filed, such as a fender bender, you still need to let your lawyer know about it. If you don’t disclose the fender bender in your lawsuit, it will eventually be discovered by opposing counsel and it may appear that you are trying to claim injuries from the subsequent accident in your current lawsuit (even if you suffered no injuries in the subsequent accident).

Settlement tip

4. Tell Your Lawyer if You File for Bankruptcy

This is a big one. If you file for bankruptcy at any time after your accident but before your lawsuit is settled, your personal injury lawyer needs to know immediately. Your damages claim will become part of your bankruptcy estate, and the trustee appointed to your bankruptcy claim gains control over your lawsuit.

Filing bankruptcy does not necessarily mean that you won’t recover anything from your lawsuit. There are certain bankruptcy exemptions that will likely apply to your lawsuit that may let you recover some, if not all, of your damages despite the bankruptcy. If the applicable exemptions make it appear that your bankruptcy estate will not receive any money from your lawsuit, the trustee may just give up on your lawsuit and essentially give it back to you.

5. Tell Your Lawyer if You File for Divorce

If you file for divorce while your lawsuit is pending, your personal injury lawyer needs to know. He may want to depose your soon-to-be-ex-spouse before hostilities erupt (or escalate). Also, if your accident contributed to your divorce (e.g., from loss of your job or a change in your personality due to your injuries) your divorce may increase your emotional distress damages (as well as your spouse’s loss of consortium damages).

Settlement tip

Some of your damages (such as prior wage loss) may be subject to division in the divorce. Your lawyer needs to know this before distributing any settlement money.

When in Doubt, Tell Your Lawyer Everything

If you have any doubts as to whether you should tell your personal injury lawyer something, always err on the side of disclosure. Your lawyer is not there to judge you, and he really only cares about how the information you provide him may affect your lawsuit. All of your disclosures will be kept confidential due to the attorney-client relationship, and failure to disclose information will always be worse for you than over-sharing.

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11 Responses to 5 Things You Need to Tell Your Lawyer

  1. Pingback: Traffic accident history | Eventplannerwo

  2. Pattie says:

    I am so glad that I found your web page! I’m just getting ready to go to Mediation on Jan. 11th as a plaintiff. I was wondering how the defendendant was able to get ahold of all my comments and posts on Facebook for the past 4 years? And if I read your article correctly the defense attorney would have to get a subpoena for my facebook account. Is that correct?

    • fl_litig8r says:

      Good luck at your mediation!

      The most common way for parties to get your Facebook information is through a subpoena, coupled with a signed authorization from you (which the court would most likely force you to sign). I discussed that in this article. However, this isn’t the only way he could have gotten it. Any information you put as “public” would be easy to get. Information that you share with friends can be obtained by tricking you into friend’ing someone. If you share information with “friends of friends” then he would only need to trick one of your friends into friend’ing him. Facebook’s privacy settings can be awfully confusing, so you may be sharing more information than you think with more people than you think.

      If you have a strong password (and a good security question), it is unlikely that your account was hacked. Facebook has some high-quality security to protect it from “programming” attacks (like SQL injection), so most people who claim to have hacked Facebook have really only used a “social engineering” attack (like tricking someone into friend’ing them). Check your friend list for anyone suspicious. Also, make sure your security isn’t set to share things with “friends of friends,” which leaves you as vulnerable as your most gullible friend.

      Your lawyer would know if the Facebook information was obtained by subpoena, as he has to be notified in advance before any subpoena is sent out (so he can object, if appropriate). If it wasn’t, you’ve got to tighten up your Facebook security.

  3. What is the meaning of pre-history medical records

    • fl_litig8r says:

      I’ve never heard that term used before. Whoever used it with you may be referring to pre-accident records, but without any context, I can’t say for sure. Where did this phrase come up?

  4. lostbunny says:

    I plead no contest for an accusation of stealing at a store while working at the store. It was a situation where two women came to the store to steal and threatend me and soon as the walked away I got loss prevention to go after them, I was terminated, I was not arrested just asked to go to the police station and get finger printed. It took about ten minutes at the station. I was advised by my attorney at the to plead no contest because the judge at the time was running for election and let the case be sealed and later expunged. That was 19 years ago, now Im suffering injuries sustained by falling merchandise at Walmart and was asked this question during the deposition. Can this be used against me by the jury? Should I pull up the whole case file. I have not had any other legal problems. It sucks I get injured from their employees not doing their job and im on trial not them.

    • fl_litig8r says:

      Typically, convictions more than 15 years old (10 in some jurisdictions) will not be admissible. The defendant is allowed to discover them, but the jury doesn’t get to hear them. If your judge withheld adjudication (as opposed to ruling you guilty) on the criminal case, then it definitely wouldn’t be admissible, as it was not a “conviction”.

  5. Patricia says:

    I live in Florida and was involved in a personal injury auto accident. While completing the questionnaire for my attorney, one of the questions is if I have filed bankruptcy. I did file Chapter 13 bankruptcy a year before my accident. The term of my Chapter 13 is 5 years. Will that have any effect on my settlement of my lawsuit? I asked the attorneys paralegal, and she responded with “has my bankruptcy been finalized” I don’t know how to answer that because we have entered into the bankruptcy and make monthly payments to the Court Trustee, but as far as “finalized” I don’t think that happens until the end of the 5 years. She (the paralegal) then emailed and asked for my bankruptcy attorney name and number, which I provided. Do I have anything to worry about as far as any settlement being taken by the bankruptcy court? Also, thank you very much for all the information on your website!

    • fl_litig8r says:

      I’m not a bankruptcy lawyer, but it is definitely cause for concern. Because Chapter 13 bankruptcies take so long to resolve, a windfall, such as proceeds from a lawsuit, is more likely to be put at issue than with a Chapter 7. Your repayment plan itself may specifically state what needs to be done should a windfall occur during the repayment period, so if you have a copy of that, you may be able to get your answer on your own. I’d also direct you to this recent case out of the 11th Circuit (the federal appeals circuit which covers Florida), In re Crouser (pdf warning), which indicates that a right to recover from a lawsuit which accrues during the repayment period of a Chapter 13 bankruptcy will be considered part of the estate. Note that this is an unpublished opinion, meaning that technically it isn’t binding precedent. However, you can see that it cites cases such as In re Waldron, which are binding, as authority for its position. It is likely that bankruptcy courts in the 11th Circuit would find this unpublished opinion to be persuasive even if it is not binding, but this is something you should really have a bankruptcy expert give you an opinion on.

  6. ANONYMOUS says:

    Help Please ! I was in an accident a year ago. I was not at fault the other party blew through a red light and hit me on passenger side. I did sustain injuries but I had been treated before for symptoms not related. I have been honest with my attorney from day one as far as medical conditions and here recently I was asked about my criminal history. Which I was honest and told them the truth. Prior to this I was told they were confident in my case. I refused the first offer which was several months ago. And my attorney said he didnt want to do that to me and now I am going to end up with the same or even less a year later. They sent me another offer and was also scheduled for depo. I called attorney and the paralegal wouldnt return my call. Then now a few days before depo attorney called with not so good news all of a sudden. Now they are saying my criminal record of dishonesty (over 15yrs ago) and pre existing conditions does not look good for me. I asked him what does my past have to do with now and that I was not the at fault party here. I dont understand how just days before they now feel like it would be in my best interest to accept the pennies they said they offered. I feel like my attorney didnt or isnt fighting for me. I was not under the influence at the time and had not been in about a year prior to accident. I forgot to mention they asked about drug use like I said I had been clean for about a year or longer. So why is my attorney saying these things to me. I was honest about everything they asked. And if drugs had been a factor they would have said so when I went to hospital there were no drugs in my system period. Please advise me on this matter. Thank You

    • fl_litig8r says:

      With respect to your criminal record, a conviction 15 years ago likely wouldn’t be admissible in your current case. While states vary on this, it’s pretty common for them to put a 10-year limit on the admissibility of such evidence for impeachment purposes, though that 10 years may run from the end of the sentence received for the crime.

      It sounds like your lawyer is getting cold feet about your case. Why it’s happening now and not sooner, I can’t say (maybe he hadn’t looked that closely at your case before your deposition was set), but it does seem like he’s piling on every reason he can think of, whether valid or not, to explain his lost enthusiasm and lower your expectations. I don’t know enough about your case to say whether his first impression or his current impression is right, but it sounds like it’s getting to a point where you either take the settlement they’re offering or he’ll withdraw from your case. If that’s the case, you have a tough decision to make. It’s very hard to find another lawyer willing to take over a case that’s already in progress, so you need to consider that you may wind up getting nothing if you refuse to settle and he withdraws. You can try talking to other attorneys now, but many won’t want to discuss the case with you while you’re represented by another lawyer.

      It’s pretty common for lawyers to beat up a bit on their clients prior to settlement, because, frankly, a lot of clients have unreasonable expectations. In your case, though, it sounds a little more serious than that. If your lawyer starts threatening withdrawal, you’ve got a very hard decision to make about whether to settle for less than you want.

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