People involved in the same auto accident, often hire the same attorney. There are certain benefits to doing so. For instance, the attorney’s familiarity with the case will increase, and the pursuant parties will have the same case status.
However, if an attorney takes on two clients pursuing the same person, a conflict of interest may arise. There are cases when an attorney can still represent both parties, and cases where legal assistance must stop.
An Attorney Can Represent Both the Driver and Passenger if:
An attorney may continue to represent both parties if both parties sign a waiver of conflict of interest. This is an acknowledgment by the pursuant parties that conflicting situations may arise throughout the course of their case; and regardless, the parties still wish to proceed together.
A singular attorney or law firm may represent more than one passenger (from the same vehicle) if the passengers are only pursuing the driver’s insurance for PIP benefits. In this situation, an attorney could represent several parties as PIP limits are per person; and not representative of overall coverage. Further, these benefits are not based on the fault of the driver.
Furthermore, if an attorney believes that they can adequately represent both parties the attorney may do so; provided the law doesn’t prohibit the representation, and that doing so does not damage or hurt the case of either client.
An Attorney Can’t Represent Both the Driver and Passenger if:
An attorney cannot represent both parties if the driver has any liability for the passenger’s injuries. If the vehicle driver has no liability for passenger injuries, the same attorney or law firm may represent both parties.
However, as the case progresses, the driver may be found to be partially liable. In this case, representation must stop for both parties unless the driver or passenger(s) in question seeks the help of another law firm. This type of conflict of interest is, unfortunately, non-waivable. Meaning that the parties in question cannot sign a conflict of interest release form; stating that they are ok with the potential conflict of interest.
If the passenger(s) refutes the driver’s fault and does not believe or wish to pursue the driver for compensation, both parties may still be represented by the same attorney or law firm. Furthermore, if the driver and passenger(s) are closely related, they may not want to open a claim against each other. The attending attorney cannot influence this decision. In this case, both parties may proceed with joint representation.
Further, an attorney can’t represent both driver and passenger if the at-fault party’s insurance is not sufficient to compensate both parties. As both parties deserve to receive an amount sufficient to compensate their needs, the benefit or gain of one would harm the other. The lawyer could not sufficiently represent one party in this case, without damaging the case of the other party.