Communications with Uninsured Motorist
Opinion rules that the attorney for the plaintiffs in a personal injury action arising out of a motor vehicle accident may interview the unrepresented defendant even though the uninsured motorist insurer, which has elected to defend the claim in the name of the defendant, is represented by an attorney in the matter.
Attorney A represents Plaintiffs in a civil action instituted against Defendant for damages arising out of a motor vehicle accident. Defendant has no motor vehicle insurance and is not represented by a lawyer. Attorney B represents the uninsured motorist insurer ("Insurer") which is defending the claim in the name of the defendant without being named as a party pursuant to G.S. §279.21(b)(3)a. May Attorney A speak to Defendant without Attorney B's knowledge or consent?
Yes. Rule 7.4(a) of the Rules of Professional Conduct only prohibits communication with a person known to be represented by counsel in regard to the matter in question. Although G.S. §20-279.21(b)(3)a. allows an insurer to defend in the name of an uninsured motorist, the attorney for the insurer does not represent that individual. For that reason, Attorney A need not obtain the consent of Attorney B in order to interview Defendant. However, in dealing with Defendant, who is unrepresented in this matter, Attorney A must comply with the requirements of Rule 7.4(b) and (c) which prohibit a lawyer from giving advice to an adverse party who is not represented by a lawyer, other than the advice to secure counsel, and also prohibits such a lawyer from stating or implying that he or she is disinterested.
There is motor vehicle insurance covering the vehicle driven by Defendant in the accident but the limits of liability are inadequate to compensate Plaintiffs. The motor vehicle insurer providing primary liability coverage on the underinsured vehicle driven by Defendant pays the limits of liability and, upon application to the court pursuant to G.S. §20-279.21(b)(4), is released from further liability and the obligation to provide a defense. Defendant is therefore unrepresented. The underinsured motorist insurer (represented by Attorney B) is defending the action in the name of Defendant pursuant to G.S. §20-279.21(b)(4). May Attorney A communicate with Defendant without Attorney B's knowledge or consent if Plaintiffs release Defendant from personal liability?
Yes. See opinion #1.