Many people have their own preconceived notions about personal injury lawyers and how they do business, and the reality of the situation is that there are plenty of unethical attorneys out there who give the profession as a whole a bad name.
Colloquially, attorneys and medical professionals who go to extreme lengths to advertise their services directly to individuals immediately after an accident are known as "ambulance chasers." These unethical professionals give a bad name to those who practice in good faith, and are a disservice to the general public because they try to pressure accident victims to pursue a lawsuit just to make a quick buck.
This is one of the many reasons that Seattle attorney Chris Davis has dedicated himself to providing accident victims with the informational resources they need to learn about the personal injury legal process and better understand their own legal rights. Time and time again, Mr. Davis has made it clear that his overall goal is to level the playing field between accident victims and insurance companies, regardless of whether he actually represents those victims as clients.
1. Understanding Ambulance Chasers and Their Strategies
A recent investigative report published by KOMONews.com took a look at the occurrence of this very issue in the Seattle area, and found a local woman who had been targeted by an ambulance chaser after she was hurt in a car accident on Interstate 5.
According to the news report, Bernice Velatequi was driving in traffic one afternoon when she rear-ended an SUV that had pulled out in front of her. Because traffic was bad at the time, the vehicles weren’t traveling very fast and the collision itself was relatively minor. Police responded to the scene of the accident, the two parties exchanged information and Velatequi notified her insurance company, figuring that would be the end of it since nobody was hurt.
“I didn’t hit him hard,” Velatequi said in the report, “because we were driving actually bumper to bumper.”
But a couple of weeks after the accident, Velatequi received a strange phone call from a man who already knew plenty of information about her, including that she had been involved in a collision. The man reportedly pushed to have her undergo a free medical evaluation, which he said would be paid for by the chiropractor who was going to evaluate her.
2. Pushy Solicitors: A Red Flag for Accident Victims
Velatequi initially declined the man’s offer for a free medical evaluation, but said that she receive three additional calls from him over the next couple of weeks. With each call, the man would push even harder to get her to have her supposed injuries evaluated, even though she told him she wasn’t hurt in the accident.
When she received a fourth call from the man, Velatequi decided to set up an appointment just to see if she could learn more about what was really going on. It wasn’t long before she discovered she was the target of an intricate plan set up by an ambulance chasing service – there are thousands of them operating across the country – which tries to track down accident victims and refer the person’s information to a lawyer, chiropractor or other medical care provider. These schemes intentionally sidestep the state-mandated regulations designed to keep medical providers from soliciting and aggressively pursuing accident victims.
3. How Can Ambulance Chasers Get My Information?
Because state laws require collision reports to be available as public record – including most of the information in the report itself – it is relatively easy for ambulance chasers to collect hundreds of reports from the Washington State Patrol (WSP) public records division on a weekly basis. According to the WSP, the same 10 to 15 people show up at their public records office in Tumwater to go through collision reports.
The WSP says that some police jurisdictions do their best to protect the public from ambulance chasers by “heavily redacting all personal information” included on the collision reports. However, not all police departments are this diligent and all are required to forward complete collision reports to the state so that they may be made available for public discovery.
Granted, there are a number of rules and regulations imposed by the Washington State Bar Association (WSBA) designed to keep lawyers from using these aggressive marketing tactics to profit off of accident victims. However, these regulations are only designed to prevent attorneys from directly contacting accident victims (i.e. calling or visiting the victim's home), and does not explicitly apply to direct mail marketing. It’s becoming more and more clear that there is substantial demand for these ambulance chasers’ services, regardless of how unethical and greedy they may be.
4. Ambulance Chasers’ Negative Impact on Public Perception
Aside from the obvious invasion of privacy associated with these business practices, perhaps the most troubling issue with ambulance chasers is that their business strategy only encourages frivolous lawsuits and continues to facilitate the negative perception that many consumers have when it comes to attorneys.
In Velatequi’s case, for example, the solicitor was adamant about referring her to chiropractic treatment even though she did not suffer any injuries in the accident. It’s difficult to speculate, but the chances are that the solicitor planned to have her undergo costly medical treatment and perhaps even meet with a lawyer. In these situations, the solicitor is valued by medical providers and lawyers as a referral service and will typically be compensated for his work.
This business strategy is effectively equated to telemarketing for lawyers and medical providers, something that is strictly prohibited by both the state bar association and Department of Health. The attorneys and medical providers who participate in these unethical practices are doing a major disservice to the profession and increase the potential for frivolous lawsuits that present a significant financial burden to taxpayers.
Accident victims should have the freedom to make their own decisions about medical providers and seeking legal representation after an accident, not be subjected to repetitive and harassing phone calls from an ambulance chaser. If you receive soliciting phone calls from someone you don’t know asking you personal questions about your physical health after an accident, chances are it’s from an ambulance chaser who has none of your best interests in mind. And those are just not the kind of people you want to represent your legal interests after an accident, in my honest opinion.