Legal Fact or Fiction?

Legal Fact or Fiction?

Just when I think I have heard it all, a client tells me another piece of advice they have received that is “absolutely the truth!” about a legal issue. I know that there are a lot of knowledgeable people in our community, with a lot of great ideas, and probably even some real-world experience of their own dealings with the legal system to add to the mix, but as a solicitor I have to say that I hear a lot of legal myths being reported as the truth. Here are some of the more popular legal untruths that I hear regularly:

“If someone dies without a will, their money goes to the Australian government.”

I’m not sure which bush lawyer started this one, but it seems to be in regular circulation. The fact is, in NSW we have legislation that sets out who inherits someone’s estate if they pass away without a will. A person would have to pass away without a person entitled under the legislation which includes spouses, de facto partners, children, parents, siblings, grandparents, and aunts/uncles before the estate would go to the State. That being said, it is better to have a will in place to make sure your estate goes to who you want it to go to, rather than relying on legislation to make the right decision for you.

“You don’t need to report a motor vehicle accident to police.”

There are plenty of circumstances where a motor vehicle accident needs to be reported to NSW police – it is a requirement if a vehicle needs to be towed, if someone is injured, or if any person involved fails to provide their details. Even in circumstances where it is not required, your insurer will often require that the matter has been reported to police in order to make a claim for injuries or property damage. So, while it may not be legally necessary to report every minor accident to police, make sure you at least get the other drivers details and the registration number of the other vehicle so that it can be reported later if you find out it is needed.

“Online comments are not defamation.”

To all the keyboard warriors that think that they will not be liable for expressing an opinion on a website or social media site, unfortunately you are not excluded from potential legal action if someone suffers harm to their reputation because of your comment. In fact, you could be held liable just for liking someone’s defamatory post or comment, sharing or re-posting a defamatory comment, inviting or encouraging negative comments or even just sharing a post or defamatory comment about someone with a close friend. Don’t think you can get away with it by setting up a fake profile either, Google was ordered to reveal the identity of anonymous users in a recent defamation case. So my advice is to think it through before you type!

“I don’t need a lawyer, they cost too much.”

This is like saying you don’t need medical treatment because your doctor costs too much. The need has nothing to do with the cost! While I will agree that there are plenty of big firm lawyers out there that charge an hourly rate that makes me cringe, there are also plenty of private solicitors that do pro bono work, legal aid, IRO funded workers compensation claims, free initial advice, fixed fee rates or legal work where fees are only payable on a successful outcome. In many areas of law, solicitors’ fees are regulated and capped by legislation. Solicitors are also required to advise you of their fees upfront and how they will be charged in a costs agreement that you have to sign and agree to. Even after you have signed a costs agreement, if you disagree with a solicitor’s fees once you have received their invoice, you can apply to have the costs independently assessed by the court. How many industries can say the same? Many people achieve a much better result and much quicker outcome once they have had appropriate legal advice. Ask a solicitor about their costs before making assumptions about fees, each matter is different, and you won’t know what options might be available to you until you ask.

And of course, the most untrue statement of them all that I personally find most offensive – “Lawyers do not know how to have fun”. I would like to put that myth to rest immediately, I have plenty of fun when I’m not working! As many of my clients also know, I like to have a laugh at work to lighten the mood as well!

If you need any legal advice, please speak to a real solicitor rather than relying on the some of the legal myths floating around out there, this is what we are here for. KC Hilton, solicitor, WNB Legal.