Contrary to what many people believe, a lawyer can represent more than one injured person arising from the same accident. When can a lawyer represent a number of individuals injured in the same accident? When there is a deep pocket defendant.
What is a deep pocket defendant? Examples of deep pocket defendants are large corporations, construction companies, transit companies, commercial trucking companies – any company with the financial where-with-all to pay whatever settlement or judgment is obtained on behalf of all of the injured individuals.
Are there advantages to more than one injured person retaining the same lawyer arising out of the same accident? There are several significant advantages. An obvious advantage is reduced cost. If the expenses associated with an investigation and the hiring of liability experts are divided by a number of individuals, the cost for each person is going to be less. Another not so obvious advantage is the ease and speed with which each case can move through the judicial system, if some or all of the injured individuals are all represented by the same lawyer. All claims can be started at the same time; important events like examinations for discovery, settlement conferences, mediations and pre-trial conferences can be scheduled much more quickly; and if any of the cases fall into that small minority of cases, that proceed to trial, the trials can be scheduled much faster and be concluded sooner.
What are those instances where the same lawyer should not represent more than one individual? When there is no deep pocket defendant and there is limited insurance available to pay all injured individuals the full amount to compensate them for their injuries and losses. In these cases, where there is a chance that each injured individual will be competing for the available insurance, so that each individual will receives less than 100 cents on the dollar for their losses, then a lawyer should represent only one injured individual. The one exception to this general principle is this: if the injured individuals are family members and if they are advised by the lawyer that there may be limited insurance such that each family member may not be fully compensated for his or her losses and if they all agree to this, then it is permissible for one lawyer to represent all of the family members.
How are injured individuals to know whether a proposed defendant has a deep pocket? In many cases, it is obvious – many large corporations make millions in profits every year and in the case of companies listed on a stock exchange, this is public information. What about those cases that are not so obvious? In Ontario, any defendant has to make full disclosure of all insurance policies that respond to the claims of the injured individuals. This includes primary insurance policies, umbrella insurance policies and excess insurance policies.
In summary, no injured person hurt by a deep pocket defendant should be prevented from hiring a personal injury lawyer of his or her choice simply because that lawyer has already been retained by another individual injured in the same accident. In fact, there may be significant benefits to retaining a lawyer that is representing other individuals hurt in the same incident.