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Let's stop predatory auto insurance company solicitation of car accident victims too

Michigan accident lawyer explains the problem with insurance company adjusters contacting injured drivers after car crashes

Yesterday, I wrote about the new amendment to MRPC 7.3, which I support. This amendment will help curb lawyer solicitation letters to car accident victims.

Now it’s time to do something about the auto insurance companies and claims adjusters that are out there contacting accident victims immediately after a car accident has occurred.

Fact: Cases with an experienced accident lawyer settle for four times more than cases without a lawyer. This statistic is from the insurance industry, and it is why it’s increasingly common to see insurance claims adjusters pop up at the homes of people to try to settle accident injury cases cheap. Some claims adjusters literally camp outside the homes of people who have been seriously injured, waiting for them to come home from the hospital.

The trucking industry also knows this, and the major topic at the big trucking defense seminars is get to the victims of serious truck accidents as quickly as possible before they can hire a truck accident lawyer, because it can save the auto insurance company hundreds of thousands of dollars. From my own cases, I can say the greater the number of safety violations – whether they be driving past regulated hours, speeding, or prior truck accidents – the stronger the push by the insurance company to settle the case before an accident lawyer gets involved. In a catastrophic injury or truck death case, literally millions can be left on the table.

One trucking defense industry insider even wrote a law review article on this topic of reaching accident victims early. I’ve written in the past about the now notorious case, where an insurance company for a trucking company that caused a fatal truck accident settled a case with the surviving spouse for the death of her husband by buying the family a new car.

The amendment to curb lawyer solicitation should also include insurance companies contacting people injured in car accidents

The larger point behind the amendment to MRPC 7.3 on lawyer solicitation is trying to protect the reputation of the legal profession and to protect auto accident victims who are unfamiliar with their legal rights and what compensation they’re rightfully entitled. That last point – protecting the public from abuse and those who would profit by taking unfair advantage of them – is why the ban on direct lawyer solicitation within the first 30 days after a car accident or truck accident was recently enacted in Michigan.

An amendment to MRPC 7.3 (that goes into effect on September 1, 2011), should and must include other groups as well. Unfortunately, this ethics rule change only effects solicitation lawyers who bombard auto accident victims with direct mail (often after getting their name from bribing a police officer, since waiting for the FOIA responses on traffic accidents has proved too slow with so much competition from other injury lawyers).

This rule change has no effect on the auto insurance companies that unfairly target car accident victims for early settlement, and are calling these people up at home or sending claims adjusters and investigators to knock on their doors.

How to stop insurance companies from directly contacting Michigan car accident victims immediately after auto accidents

There are two common sense solutions that could work here.

1. The first is for Michigan to adopt what a number of other states, such as Washington, have done; and that is to say that these auto insurance companies and claims adjusters that contact accident victims immediately following serious car accidents are engaged in the unauthorized practice of law.

So far, nothing has been done along these lines, even though the situation is becoming increasingly common and widespread. But if a claims adjuster for an adverse party in interest – the insurance company that is required by law to pay fair compensation – can contact an injured auto accident victim by phone or at home and make representations as to what Michigan law is and what the injuries are worth is not the unauthorized practice of law, then I do not know what is.

2. The second common sense solution is to instill the same waiting period – 30 days at least – for all parties who target (prey) upon the direct contact and solicitation of someone seriously injured in an auto accident.

I personally feel the 30 days is not sufficient. This is because for many injuries such as a traumatic brain injury, a spinal cord or herniated disk – or even a serious fracture – it’s impossible to know the full extent of the injury within 30 days.

But 30 days would at least allow an accident victim time to investigate what they are entitled to and what the law provides for them. It at least allows people injured in car accidents a level playing field with the insurance company adjusters. It allows these accident victims to learn what their legal rights are. If our common aim is to promote fairness and justice, then it is hard to see how a no contact or solicitation rule of at least 30 days (and preferably 60 or 90 days) applied equally and fairly to all groups that are contacting injured car accident victims immediately after an injury accident fails to serve the public interest.

Steve Gursten is recognized as one of the nation’s top car accident lawyers. He writes about insurance company abuse and the insurance laws in Michigan, and is available for comment.

Related information:

Lawyer advice to truck accident victims: Beware of strangers bearing gifts

Beware of insurance companies bearing gifts – Part II

Pain and suffering lawsuit

Michigan Auto Law is the largest law firm exclusively handling car accident, truck accident and motorcycle accident cases throughout the entire state. We have offices in Farmington Hills, Detroit, Ann Arbor, Grand Rapids and Sterling Heights to better serve you. Call (800) 777-0028 for a free consultation with one of our accident lawyers.

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