If you’ve ever been in a car wreck, chances are you have some experience with “ambulance chasers.” The term comes from the unethical practice of some attorneys and others working with or for them of soliciting business after a traffic accident, especially if there were injuries that may lead to a lawsuit against the responsible party. They “chase” the ambulance to try to talk to any injured victims and take their cases.
Anyone involved in a wreck can be a target. Here are five things you should know about this illegal practice here in the Valley.
- Attorneys cannot solicit, or offer their services, to you in relation to a specific incident
The Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct prohibit attorneys and those working with or for them from seeking “professional employment concerning a matter arising out of a particular occurrence or event.” That means that an attorney cannot offer their services — by either giving you a business card, or asking you to come to their office to discuss you case — in relation to a specific event, such as a car accident. Attorneys who engage in this practice either directly or indirectly can be subject to discipline by the State Bar of Texas.
Unfortunately, not all attorneys abide by this prohibition.
- This prohibition also applies to other persons working with or for lawyers
Some attorneys rely on paralegals, hospital employees, therapists, paramedics, tow truck drivers, so-called “runners,” and others to solicit business from potential clients. This practice is as unethical as it is for the lawyers to engage in it directly. Some of these individuals have access to information or to the specific people involved in a wreck, and therefore they have access to contact information of the victims. They may also obtain this information from either private or public documents, such as police reports, and in some cases they may even come to your house to offer their services.
Those who engage in this practice make it seem as if they truly want to help you, which is their way to try to convince you. But beware! In addition to being unethical, these individuals do not have your best interest at heart.
- “Runners” tend to work on a commission basis — they’re trying to get a commission, not help you
Most often these individuals will tell you fantastic stories about how much money you will recover if you hire this or that lawyer, or what great medical services you will receive for you and any relative who was also involved in the accident. They’re experienced in doing this and will tell you what you want to hear. But remember: These individuals work on commission, meaning that they get paid for taking your business to a certain lawyer or law office. They are simply trying to make that commission, not to help you.
Here is a quick tip to see whether a person is a runner working (unethically) for a lawyer: If someone solicits your business after an accident, ask them what office they work for, and ask for a phone number. Call that number, and ask if the person who solicited you works there. If they do not work there, that should be a red flag that this person is a runner working on commission. If they do work at that office and they did solicit your business, you can report them to the State Bar of Texas for violating Rules 7.03 and 8.04, by calling 1-800-932-1900.
- Lawyers and law offices can advertise their business to you, but not solicit after a specific accident or other incident
The prohibition against solicitation does not mean that attorneys cannot advertise their services to you. You surely have seen the billboards around the Valley, seen ads on TV, heard them on the radio, and probably even seen them online. That is all permissible, within the rules. The general rule is that attorneys cannot offer their services for a specific accident (“I can help you with the accident you were in yesterday”), but they can offer their services generally (“I can help you if you’re ever in an accident”).
- Choose your own, reputable lawyer: Word of mouth recommendations are the best
If you ever need to hire an attorney, whether for an accident or for anything else, the best thing you can do is go with someone who is reputable. Look up potential lawyers on the State Bar of Texas website (texasbar.com) to ensure they are licensed and in good standing. Try to talk to other clients the lawyer has represented in the past, ideally in a similar case. As in most things, word of mouth recommendations are usually the best way to go.