Can my lawyer represent multiple people in the same accident?

Attorney Daniel VillalobosAuthor: Attorney Daniel Villalobos

This question is complicated and cannot be answered very easily. Often times the attorney can handle multiple claims in the same accident but the lawyer should not represent all the claimants if in doing so would create a conflict of interest. For example. A is the driver and B, C, D are all riding in the same car with A. As A goes through an intersection, A has an accident with another vehicle driven by E. A claims E ran the red light and E claims A ran the red light. With no independent witnesses or video it is impossible to verify who caused the accident. If an attorney represents A, B, C, and D against E for injuries, this attorney would have a big conflict of interest on his hands. That is because B, C, and D have a claim against E for injuries and also may have a claim against A if a jury rules that A is partially responsible for the accident. The attorney cannot represent A for a claim against E while representing B, C, and D against A. In short, he can’t represent someone and file a claim against the same person in the same accident.

Now let’s change the facts a little. Let’s say A, B, C, and D are driving down the road and E makes an illegal left turn in front of A, B, C, and D which causes an accident. E’s insurance accepts full responsibility for the accident. Assuming E has a very big policy of insurance that can cover all the injuries, then an attorney can ethically represent A, B, C, and D in the accident since none of them have any claims against each other and E has a large enough policy of insurance to cover all the claims.

Let’s change the facts one more time. Let’s say E caused the accident and only has a small policy of insurance of $10,000. The claims for A, B, C, and D independently are worth over $10,000 for a total value of $40,000 (add up the value of each claim). Here the attorney would have an ethical problem and should not represent A, B, C, and D without first getting consent and fulling disclosing his conflict of interest with each client. The reason for the conflict is because the attorney’s job is to make sure he gets the maximum recovery that he can for each client. Effectually he will want to get each client $10,000. But he cannot do that because there is only $10,000 available. So if he fights for the full $10,000 for A, then he can’t fight to get any money for B, C, and D. That would not be fair to B, C, and D. At the same time if he asks A to take less than $10,000 so that B, C, and D can get money from the settlement, then he is not trying to get A the biggest recovery he can, he is actually trying to get A less money than A is entitled to. Now if A, B, C, and D are each willing to take $2,500 even though they are entitled to $10,000 each, then if the lawyer fully explains the conflict to the client’s and they all sign documents acknowledging the conflict of interest and agree to proceed anyway, the attorney can then represent A, B, C, and D.

So hopefully this article helps to understand when an attorney can take multiple claims. The short short answer is, he can do so if no conflicts of interest arise in his representation of each client. If a conflict arises, the attorney must withdraw from one or all of the claims, or fully disclose the conflict to each client and have them agree to waive the conflict of interest.

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