Unscrupulous lawyers break ethics rules when they contact injury victims
First-time car accident victims are not only dealing with physical and emotional distress, they are often navigating the legal system for the first time. Some find themselves hounded by unscrupulous attorneys who obtained their contact information illegally, commonly referred to as “ambulance chasers.”
After being rear-ended while driving home from work, Stacie Burgess was shocked to start receiving calls from lawyers offering to represent her the very next day. “I couldn’t believe the amount of calls I got, it seemed like they were privy to information from my 911 call or a police report.”
The calls left her feeling very agitated, on top of all of the other emotions that come along with being in an accident for the first time, Stacie said.
If a lawyer calls you after an accident, they have likely received your contact information through unethical methods, said Keith Watters of Keith Watters & Associates. These types of lawyers are considered “runners” or “solicitors” who will likely resell your case if you contract services with them.
“If an attorney calls you, they probably got the information improperly from the police or hospital,” Watters said. “There are a lot of payoffs in this field and if a lawyer is willing to pay for information to get a client, that is a sign right there that the person is probably unethical.”
Falling victim to the predators
Lawyers shouldn’t be soliciting clients as a general rule, so receiving an unexpected phone call from an attorney should be a warning sign for accident victims.
Many people are unaware that this practice is illegal and end up using the attorney’s services.
A WXYZ Detroit story looks at the issue of ambulance chasers in that city, where accident victims are often targeted. New technology has allowed ambulance chasers to find victims even more easily, according to the report.
“Derrick” was an accident victim who got a phone call within 24 hours of being hit while driving. The attorneys who contacted him provided transportation to take Derrick to a high-price medical clinic and then ended up referring his case elsewhere.
Derrick later learned that those calls broke a Michigan state law against solicitation, which is punishable by jail time and up to $60,000 in fines. Derrick later found his own lawyer to handle his accident and filed a complaint with the attorney grievance commission against the predatory attorney.
Attorney Daniel Romano told WXYZ that he suspects police officers, emergency responders, and even hospital workers could be turning over personal information to unscrupulous attorneys.
“We are getting people solicited the day the accident happens, often within an hour or minutes of the accident.” Romano said. “It happens in cases where there is no police report, when they go directly to the hospital. Or when they don’t go to the hospital, there’s just a police report.”
In Stacie’s case, she ended up researching and finding her own firm, but she understands why some people fall prey to these scammers. “You just don’t know what to do when it is your first time in an accident. The ambulance chasers to me are just not reputable,” she said.
Violation of conduct
The American Bar Association’s (ABA) “Model Rules for Professional Conduct“ provide strict guidance on how lawyers may solicit clients. An infraction could cost an attorney their law license. These rules, which were adopted by each individual state, regulate that:
(a) A lawyer shall not by in-person, live telephone or real-time electronic contact solicit professional employment when a significant motive for the lawyer’s doing so is the lawyer’s pecuniary gain, unless the person contacted:
(1) is a lawyer; or
(2) has a family, close personal, or prior professional relationship with the lawyer.
(b) A lawyer shall not solicit professional employment by written, recorded or electronic communication or by in-person, telephone or real-time electronic contact even when not otherwise prohibited by paragraph (a), if:
(1) the target of the solicitation has made known to the lawyer a desire not to be solicited by the lawyer; or
(2) the solicitation involves coercion, duress or harassment.
In summary, the rules state that attorneys cannot contact clients if their primary motivation is to make a profit. However, there are exceptions if the potential client is a lawyer, or a person has a familial or professional relationship with the attorney.
Find your own law firm
Instead of falling prey to predatory attorneys, Keith recommends that accident victims find their own representation through referrals or research and seek someone who has extensive experience in the personal injury and car accident fields.
Have you been contacted by an attorney after an accident? Did you regret accepting their services? Please share your story below.
Yes. I was in a minor accident yesterday and less than 24 hours later I received a phone call from an accident victim attorney. I asked how he got my number… he said from an accident victim database. This is scary. I don’t know who to notify. Im going to contact the American Bar Association I think. Nor sure who else.
Carrie Warren says
How frustrating! The American Bar Association is a great place to report the phone call. I hope you’re feeling alright after the accident!
Foy Mainor says
My 17 year old son was involved in a minor accident and rear ended another vehicle. My son received a letter via Certified Mail and standard mail from a lawyer claiming to represent the other driver stating that he did not provide insurance information to the responding officer. I checked the police report and it clearly shows the insurance information.
I am surprised that they can contact a minor and provide false information in an attempt to collect information.
Nancy Rapp says
Hello Foy. It’s hard to tell what may have happened. Either the driver forgot the information or the lawyer was misinformed. Either way, it’s good you stayed on top of things!
I was rear ended in Oct, 2016 while 8 months pregnant. Although I had back pain post accident, my main concern was for the health of my unborn baby (luckily she was fine). I gave birth in December 2016 and was still having back pain. My boyfriend made a call to a lawyer for a completely separate issue than mine and ended up telling the person at the firm about my accident (he’s a talker). Not thinking, he gave them my number after they asked for it then immediately told them: “don’t call her. She just had a baby and isn’t in the place to discuss this or make decisions. She will call you when she’s ready.”
Well, of course they called me. I probably seemed like an open and shut case having been rear ended while sitting at a stoplight. Not thinking clearly, I met with them. I had postpartum anxiety and had just received paperwork from the at fault driver’s insurance requesting all my medical history. I had no idea why they would need this. I ended up signing a contract with this law firm and now , two years later after a lot of pain and procedures to try to mitigate it, they are trying to push me to have spinal fusion surgery.
Needless to say, I feel suckered into working with this firm and I am not happy about how they’re handling my case.
Lance Buchanan says
Thanks for sharing your story, Jo. (And congrats on the birth of your daughter!) We’re sorry your experience with your the law firm has been poor. Consider being honest and frank with them about your expectations and how they are handling your case. You may also consider meeting with a different attorney to ask if they think the other lawyers are acting unprofessional or out of line. Best of luck!
jeff darold jones says
I have been harassed and threatened by the at fault driver’s INSURANCE COMPANY! They want my info, but you guys say to not speak with them. What should I do?
Ian Pisarcik says
If you believe the insurance company is harassing you, a bad faith claim might be appropriate. Consider meeting with an attorney in your area to discuss your options.
I was involved in an accident a few days ago, and today i received a call from some law firm, i don’t even have some of the information he referenced. It’s not bad enough that i am still shaken up but now i have to monitor my calls for these lawyers.
Ian Pisarcik says
I’m sorry this happened to you. “Ambulance chasing” is illegal in Florida. Florida statute §817.234(8)(b) prohibits solicitation except by general advertising within 60 days of an accident. Violation is a third-degree felony. You may want to file a complaint with the Florida State Bar.
When you are ready, you can use our free online directory to contact a lawyer on your own accord.
Hello I was in an accident a few days ago and today a lawyer just contacted me and said they wanna help me but something in my spirit just doesn’t sit right with this because I thought we were supposed contact them