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Piccuta Hired to Help Family Injured in Southern California Car Accident
Lead trial counsel of Piccuta Law Group, LLP, Charles Tony Piccuta, was recently hired to help a family injured in a Southern California car accident. The family, who is from out of state, retained Piccuta because of his reputation in handling car accident cases. The venue for the case is Riverside County, California.
Piccuta has litigated several cases in Southern California and Riverside County. In the last year alone, Piccuta resolved a case in Los Angeles County for $550,000; a case in San Bernardino County for $150,000; and four cases in Orange County which settled for various amounts.
Facts Surrounding the Car Accident
On or about March 10, 2019, the family was on a trip to Southern California. The family lives in Arizona but travelled to California on vacation. As they exited the Interstate 10 freeway in the Palm Springs area, they came to a stoplight at the end of the off-ramp. The stoplight was red and the vehicle was brought to a complete stop.
After several seconds, they were rear-ended at a high rate of speed from behind. They did not hear the application of any brakes. The crash was without warning and they had no time to brace for the impact. They were thrust about violently in the vehicle because of the great forces the crash created.
There were five individuals in the vehicle. This included four passengers and the driver. Piccuta represents all five individuals. The clients include a married couple and their minor daughter, the grandmother of the minor daughter and a family friend. All five sustained injuries to their spines. The medical treatment and testing that the clients received thus far show that the injuries range from cervical whiplash to lumbar disc problems to concussions.
Considerations for Conflicts of Interest When an Attorney Represents Multiple Clients
When an attorney represents more than one injured person arising from the same car accident, the attorney must evaluate potential and actual conflicts of interest. An attorney has a duty of loyalty to his or her client. This means that the attorney must put his or her client’s interests above all others, even before his or her own interests.
An attorney has a duty of loyalty to his or her client. This means that the attorney must put his or her client’s interests above all others, even before his or her own interests.
Every attorney in California is bound by the California Rules of Professional Conduct. California Rule of Professional Conduct 1.7 specifically addresses conflicts of interest. The Rule sets forth:
“[with certain exceptions] a lawyer shall not, without informed written consent from each affected client and compliance with paragraph (d), represent a client if there is a significant risk the lawyer’s representation of the client will be materially limited by the lawyer’s responsibilities to or relationships with another client, a former client or a third person, or by the lawyer’s own interests.”
In any situation where there is more than one injured individual in the same vehicle, having one attorney representing all those individuals can create a conflict of interest. This is of specific concern when there are inadequate insurance funds from which all those individuals are seeking to recover. As an illustration, if the total insurance available is $40,000, and the combined injuries of all the injured individuals exceeds this amount, then all those injured individuals will be required to divide it up. They will be fighting for the same source of funds. Usually, the way to divide up a limited insurance policy is by distributing it on a pro-rated basis after calculating each individual’s percentage share of damages.
How a Limited Insurance Policy is Divided Up Between Parties on a Pro-Rated Basis
Below is an example of how to divide up an insurance policy, on a pro-rated basis, when more than one party is injured and claiming the right to payment. This example uses an insurance policy of $40,000 and three injured parties claiming a right to payment. Injured Party #1 has $10,000 in medical expenses. Injured Parties #2 and #3 each have $5,000 in medical expenses.
Under this scenario, the pro-rated amount would be calculated as follows:
Injured Party #1 ($10,000 in medical expenses/treatment) = 50% of total damages
Injured Party #2 ($5,000 in medical expenses/treatment) = 25% of total damages
Injured Party #3 ($5,000 in medical expenses/treatment) = 25% of total damages
Total: $20,000 in total medical expenses/treatment – 100%
By calculating each injured party’s percentage share of the total damages (for this example only medical expenses), then the percentage amount for each can then be multiplied by the total insurance funds available. Doing so will then provide the total share of the insurance funds each is entitled to based upon their percentage share of total damages.
$40,000 total insurance money available under the policy.
$40,000 x 50% = $20,000 for Injured Party #1.
$40,000 x 25% = $10,000 for Injured Party #2.
$40,000 x 25% = $10,000 for injured Party #3.
However, this is just an example for illustration purposes and is very limited in several regards. It is only being offered to show a simple way to divide up a limited source of insurance funds between multiple claiming parties. This example only considers medical expenses and assumes that there are no other unique damages that apply to the individuals. In other words, it assumes that all their pain and suffering and other recoverable damages are the exact same.
Of course, in the real world, there are many more categories of unique recoverable damages. These will differ from individual to individual and may include things like: lost earnings, permanency of the injuries, the need for future medical care, need for prosthetic devices, etc. More importantly, each individual will necessarily have a different experience for both future and past pain and suffering.
Any attorney that represents more than one injured person, arising from the same accident or incident, may be thrust into a scenario where he cannot advocate for both clients. If he advocates for one, he may be failing to fully advocate for his other client. The attorney will then be breaching the duty he owes his client because he will be failing to look out for his client’s best interests.
To best serve his client, the attorney should only represent one. This will ensure that his client receives the maximum insurance available from the limited source of funds. In simple terms, there is only so much pie for the diners to share at the table and the attorney has a duty to make sure his client eats the most.
In Some Situations Waiving a Conflict of Interest May be Preferred
There are some situations where an attorney may consider jointly representing several injured clients from the same accident. One situation that comes to mind is an attorney representing immediate family members who all have a tight-knit relationship. Under such circumstances, the family may prefer to have one attorney representing them in a united front. Having several attorneys representing each of them may seem daunting and put stress on the family members. This is especially true if the potential settlement benefits all of them.
Regardless, if an attorney is to consider such representation, then the attorney must advise the clients about the potential and actual conflicts of interest that exist with joint representation. The attorney must then advise the clients to seek out guidance from other attorneys if the clients so desire. Once the clients are fully informed about the risks, they can give their informed consent to the attorney in writing.
Thankfully, for Piccuta’s clients who were injured in Southern California, there is no such conflict. The owner of the vehicle in which the clients were riding had a sizeable underinsured motorist policy. This policy covers all of the clients. The limits of that policy far exceed any potential recovery for all the clients combined. As such, the clients are not competing for the same funds. None of them will have to take any reduction or pro-rate the amount to which they are entitled. They will all receive full payment for the injuries they sustained.
Contact One of Our Monterey Personal Injury Attorneys Today to Discuss Your Car Accident Case
If you or a loved one was injured in a car accident or otherwise, contact the Piccuta Law Group today. One of our skilled personal injury attorneys is available now. We will provide a free consultation, evaluate your case and tell you how to best protect your rights.
About the author: The content on this page was written by Monterey personal injury attorney and civil rights lawyer Charles “Tony” Piccuta. Piccuta graduated with honors from Indiana University-Maurer School of Law in Bloomington, Indiana (Ranked Top 35 US News & World Report 2018). Piccuta took and passed the State bars of Arizona, California, Illinois and Nevada (all on the first try). He actively practices throughout California and Arizona. He is a winning trial attorney that regularly handles serious personal injury cases and civil rights lawsuits. He has obtained six and seven figure verdicts in both state and federal court. He has been recognized by Super Lawyers for six years straight. He is a member of the Consumer Attorneys of California, American Association for Justice, National Police Accountability Project, Arizona Association of Justice, Maricopa County Bar Association and Scottsdale Bar Association, among other organizations.
Disclaimer: The information on this web site is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Reading and relying upon the content on this page does not create an attorney-client relationship. If you are seeking legal advice, you should contact our law firm for a free consultation and to discuss your specific case and issues.