Cracking Down On Ambulance Chasers

The "ambulance chasing" lawyer is a popular punch line of countless jokes about lawyers, especially ones that practice personal injury law. In the majority of circumstances, this is an unfair characterization, as most lawyers act ethically in their dealings with potential clients.

However, the maxim "a few bad apples spoils the bunch" is true with lawyers, just like any other profession. It is true that recently in Michigan, there has been a problem with a small percentage of personal injury lawyers engaging in "ambulance chasing" tactics to recruit new clients.

Under the Michigan Rules of Professional Conduct, the ethical rules that all attorneys must abide by, attorneys are prohibited from soliciting legal business over the telephone or face-to-face. However, these "ambulance chasing" lawyers would get around this prohibition on client solicitation by using the mail to reach potential clients (especially those involved in car accidents).

These unscrupulous lawyers would obtain car accident reports from the police or the Internet to obtain victims' addresses. The lawyers would then send the victims brochures and promotional materials advertising their services, in an attempt to solicit their business. Alternatively, the materials would encourage victims to visit a particular doctor or healthcare provider, who would then refer the victim to the attorney.

New law protects victims

To protect accident victims from being "spammed" by attorneys hopeful for their business, Gov. Rich Snyder recently signed into law new legislation that prohibits "ambulance chasing." It is hoped that the new laws, Public acts 218 and 219, will end the aggressive and intrusive practice of mail solicitation by attorneys.

Under the acts, lawyers and their non-lawyer employees and associates (sometimes called "runners" or "cappers," because they are paid when they refer potential clients) are prohibited from accessing accident reports to retrieve a victim's personal information in order to solicit their business for a period of 30 days following the date that the accident report is filed with law enforcement.

In addition, the laws prohibit lawyers and non-lawyers from directly contacting individuals, vehicle owners or property owners listed in the accident reports earlier than 30 days after the date of the accident.

Lawyers and non-lawyers that violate the new laws can face steep penalties. For a first offense, an offender can face up to a $30,000 fine. For subsequent offenses, and offender can be imprisoned up to a year and be subject to a fine up to $60,000. In addition to these penalties, convicted attorneys can fact disciplinary action by the State Bar of Michigan, up to and including disbarment.

Consult an attorney

This new legislation is a welcome relief to the majority of personal injury lawyers that truly care about the interests of their clients (and the public image of their profession). Since the new law will help root out unscrupulous attorneys, it ensures that clients will receive the highest level of service available when they opt to seek legal advice following an accident.

If you or a loved one has been involved in a car accident, insurance companies may try to offer you a settlement that does not fully take into account your injuries. An experienced personal injury attorney can work to ensure that you receive the fair compensation that you are entitled to by law.