In moments of stress, the kind of stress that is easily associated with legal troubles, it is human nature to seek advice or counsel from different kinds of people. Authority figures, friends, and family members are where we instinctively search out when we want answers about how these very important life situations might work out. Unfortunately, law is one of the few areas in life where your instincts may not be serving you very well. When you look for legal advice from loved ones, a friend who has faced condemnation or an uncle who has been injured on the job, or when you place your trust in an institution or agency, you make yourself legally vulnerable. If you rely on legal counsel from anyone other than an experienced lawyer who is representing your interests, you put yourself at great risk.
It’s uncomfortable for us to accept that the people we want to trust do not necessarily have our best interest in mind. Insurance representatives may seem understanding at first, but they are paid to represent the insurance company-NOT you. Police Officers may seem friendly, but their job is to make arrests, while other sources—parents, friends, co-workers who have “been there before”—may absolutely have primary concern for your well-being, the fact is that they do not know the intricacies of the law beyond the few facts they have gathered along the way that, out of context, probably won’t apply to your situation. Relying on the legal advice of someone who has not extensively studied law, who is not a lawyer, is hazardous.
There are a few things that are important to remember when you are seeking advice about a legal situation, and more importantly, if you are being questioned about a legal situation by an institution, agency, or individual outside of your trusted circle of loved ones.
1. There’s no benefit to rushing: take a breath and wait for your lawyer
The first and most imperative thing to know is that you never have to talk to anyone without your attorney present, and, in fact, doing so can be very dangerous. Consider the following situation: if you sustain injuries from another vehicle crashing into yours in downtown Asheville, the insurance company will want to talk to you right away. One of the reasons for this urgency is that the insurance company hopes to get you to file all of your information before you receive a medical examination. Why? Because, if you have not been examined by a medical professional, if the auto-body damage appears minimal, if your neck is not currently hurting (which is often the case when the body is still in shock following a crash), then the insurance company has on file that you reported there was no serious injury sustained. What if a later MRI tells your doctor that you require neurosurgery for your back and you talked to the insurance company when your back was numb and before the symptoms started. Don’t be pressured into hurrying the process. Take your time, allow yourself some time to think, and contact an attorney before you speak to anyone.
2. No one, including the police, can legally cut you breaks for being cooperative
No credit agency, insurance company, or even law enforcement agency has the legal authority to make the kind of deals with you that would affect your legal standing. Beware of offers that hinge on any admission, disclosure, or cooperation beyond general politeness, and never agree to share information, even if you think it’s harmless, without having first checked with a lawyer to see that the information you give won’t cause you trouble down the road. Only an attorney can tell you with certainty that a proposal is valid and beneficial. Also keep in mind that nothing is ever “off the record.” Phone calls are recorded, interview rooms have microphones, and everything you say can, and very likely will, be used against you should your case end up in court. Your mother was right: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Often times these are common sense situations; if someone is pushing you to give information before you speak to a doctor, an attorney, or another necessary professional—and particularly if they are trying to “sweeten the deal” to elicit that information—there is probably a reason, so be guarded.
3. Miscommunications and manipulations are far more likely to take place in the absence of legal counsel
Miscommunications happen all the time and, less frequently but unacceptably often, manipulation takes place between individuals and institutions on either side of a legal issue. Occasionally, it happens that individuals are coerced into giving information under the suggestion that they will be held criminally responsible for something for which they are not actually legally liable. Whether this is a mere implication or straightforward misrepresentation, it is against the law. For instance, if a creditor or collection agent calls your house and hints that you can be sued for a delinquent payment, they have broken the law. Unfortunately, it is difficult for an individual to know all of their rights in every situation, and too many people are bullied into submission by the blatant, deliberate lies of the institutions that we believe to have a certain amount of authority.
If you are in legal trouble, lean on your friends and family for emotional support, cooperate with law enforcement and government officials in matters of safety, and, when it’s time to talk, be honest with the people to whom you speak. But never take legal advice from anyone other than an experienced lawyer. Please, if you are in need of legal counsel, contact an attorney before you talk to anyone else.
At Fisher Stark, P.A., we are experienced in many areas of the law, including Personal Injury and Brain Injury Law, Product Liability Law, and Construction and Condemnation Law. We serve the state of North Carolina, including Asheville, Hendersonville, Transylvania, Brevard and Marion. We are committed to defending our clients’ rights and protecting them from the kinds of miscommunication and manipulation that can often hinder the success of cases. If you are in need of legal advice or assistance, please contact us to see how we can help.
Last updated 7/5/2015