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Best to reveal all to your lawyer

Last month, I offered advice about being up front and honest when dealing with insurance companies, doctors and other medical folks. This week, I’ll take it a few steps farther and talk about dealing with your lawyer.

I’m talking about that closet where the skeletons are kept. I’m also talking about your deepest, darkest secret, the things you’ve shoved in the closet where they belong, in the hope they’ll never, see the light of day. These are the things you might eventually share with your closest friends because sharing these types of things is a symbol of how close the friendship has become. What are some examples?

How about an affair, the rough time growing up when you spent time in jail, the experimentation with cocaine, the alcoholism, the suspicion of being affiliated with a criminal motorcycle gang. The list of possible skeletons is endless.

These skeletons have absolutely no impact on who is at fault in a crash. They have no impact on your injuries or how those injuries impact on you. They are completely irrelevant to a personal injury claim. There is no reason at all why they need to come out of the closet. Your lawyer will want them to stay in the closet too. But even though they may not have anything to do with your claim, skeletons can be very hurtful to your case.

Tiger Woods’ recent difficulties are prime examples. One of his skeletons has jumped out of the closet and has been dancing around the media trying to get lots of attention. And what a sweet thing she is. I wonder how much she was paid to share that very personal telephone message with the world. The alleged affair is an extremely personal matter.

It has nothing, whatsoever, to do with Woods’ ability to golf. Whether or not he had an affair should have nothing to do with his career. The experts seem to think, though, that the hit on Woods’ reputation will have very serious implications on his career. What does your reputation have to do with a car crash claim? Regretfully, it can have a whole lot to do with it.

If you are perceived to be a good, honest person, a judge or jury is more likely to be fair with you when deciding what compensation you are entitled to. If an insurance company gets hold of one of your skeletons, it might be able to unfairly spin that skeleton to paint the opposite picture of you. Your skeletons are not likely the kind to make such a grand entrance from your closet.

There is unlikely to be big money to be made sharing your intensely personal information with the media, as in Tiger Woods’ case. The thing is an insurance company has legal license to probe very deeply into your closet, and it is very possible your skeletons will be revealed in that process. Your best protection is to treat your lawyer like your closest friend. Do a little skeleton parade for your lawyer at the beginning of a case.

While friendships come and go, the obligation on a lawyer to keep a client’s personal information confidential is forever and absolute. If your lawyer is aware of what the skeletons are, and in which closet they are hidden, the lawyer can best protect against the insurance company’s probe successfully exposing them. If exposed, the lawyer can be prepared in advance to deal with the aftermath.

Don’t worry about your lawyer becoming jaded against you. If your lawyer isn’t the kind of person who understands that good and honest people sometimes make bad decisions, then find yourself another lawyer.

Published December 6, 2009 in the Kelowna Capital News