Law School Case Brief
Williams v. McCoy - 145 N.C. App. 111, 550 S.E.2d 796 (2001)
The attorney-client privilege is not violated when an attorney questions a party concerning whether she had communications with an attorney on a particular date, as long as such questioning does not probe the substance of the client's conversation with her attorney.
Plaintiff Joanne C. Williams filed an action against defendant Mia McCoy claiming personal injury resulting from a 1997 automobile accident between the two litigants. Based upon a pre-trial motion by defendant, the trial court instructed plaintiff not to testify that there was liability insurance, reference any conversations or contact with liability insurance adjusters, pursuant to N.C. Gen. Stat. § 8C-1, N.C. R. Evid. 411. Plaintiff objected to the court's pre-trial ruling. Plaintiff informed the court that she first hired an attorney after meeting McCoy's claims' adjuster. Plaintiff contended that restricting her testimony pursuant to Rule 411 was prejudicial, arguing that she would not be allowed to explain why she hired an attorney if defendant so inquired. The court reserved ruling based upon plaintiff's objections until such time as the question was raised at trial. After a judgment was entered pursuant to a jury's verdict finding Mia McCoy negligent and awarding plaintiff $3,000.00 in damages, plaintiff appealed.
Did the question about when and why a party consulted an attorney violate the attorney-client privilege?
The Court held that the question about when she consulted an attorney did not violate the attorney-client privilege as it did not go into her communication with the attorney. The Court also held that while evidence of liability insurance was not admissible as to negligence, it could be admitted for other purposes. If necessary, a limiting instruction could be given to the jury. Plaintiff's attempt to explain her answer did not bear on defendant's negligence but explained defense counsel's attempt to make her injuries appear exaggerated. The trial court's refusal to allow plaintiff to explain her answer was an abuse of discretion. The appellate court reversed the judgment and remanded for a new trial on all issues.
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