Ambulance Chaser (noun): A lawyer who makes unsolicited contact with an accident victim; an attorney who contacts accident victims at the scene of an accident or shortly thereafter.
The vast majority of attorneys look down on lawyers who pursue victims after their accident in the hopes of getting a case. In fact the Washington State Bar Association has prohibited this in Rule 7.3:
"A lawyer shall not directly or through a third person, by in-person, live telephone, or real-time electronic contact solicit professional employment from a prospective client when a significant motive for the lawyer's doing so is the lawyer's pecuniary gain.."
These tactics are demeaning to the lawyers who work for victims of negligence. But some of these unethical attorneys insist that banning them from accident scenes and hospitals infringe on their constitutional rights.
Common Ambulance Chasing Tactics
The following are just a few shockingly true tactics used by such ambulance chasers:
- Distributing leaflets outside of emergency rooms.
- Signing up a client on their dented car hood.
- Bribing nurses to pass out their business cards in trauma wards.
- Paying tow truck drivers to distribute their information at accident scenes.
- Combing through police records to get the names of potential clients.
- Hiring actors to play private detectives who offhandedly mention an attorney's name.
Who Are The Ambulance Chasers?
Ambulance chasers who race to accidents or disasters, make unsolictied phone calls, or send unrequested information to accident victims are desperately trying to get clients. Consider why an attorney would need to chase potential clients this way:
- They lack trust: Attorneys who are skilled are never without clients. The best attorneys turn away more potential clients than they accept. Attorneys don't beg.
- They lack funds: It takes money to negotiate the hiring of experts, vetting witnesses, obtaining relevant documents, and stitching together a defense from these varied fabrics and a firm that struggles with it is not a successful firm. A firm that needs money might rush to settle your case for far less than it is really worth.
- They lack experience: Everyone must start somewhere, but don't let your life turn into someone else's practice. Young lawyers can assist seasoned elders rather than noodle around with the legal context of your personal tragedy.
Is It Okay For An Attorney To Visit Accident Victims In A Hospital?
An attorney should only visit a hospital or the accident victim's home if they are invited by the potential client or their family. If a lawyer shows up uninvited to your hospital room you do not have to speak with them.
In fact, you should be suspicious.
Sometimes victims can’t visit an attorney’s office because of the nature of their injuries or treatment. In such cases it's completely reasonable for the victim to invite a lawyer to their bedside.
What About Mailing Information About Services To Accident Victims?
Local bar association rules vary from state-to-state. In some areas it may be allowed, but you should probably be wary of any lawyer that contacts you in this way.
This is what one of these letters looks like:
What Can You Do?
State bar associations know that these practices are unethical and damage the reputation of all lawyers. Some bar associations have created strict rules and monitor these alleged 'marketing practices.' The rules are intended to protect potential clients from facing undue pressure during horrifically stressful events. If you have received unsolicited contact from a law office you can contact the local, state, or county bar association to issue a complaint.