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How to solve the ambulance chasing problem in Michigan

Three things that need to happen now to stop ambulance chasing and lawyers from contacting car accident victims within hours of a crash

Yesterday I wrote about an important Michigan Lawyers Weekly story that tackles the growing problem of injury attorneys soliciting accident victims by calling and mailing lawyer solicitation packages to them.

These lawyers are also using “proxies” such as chiropractors and “Michigan accident services” types of front organizations that are created by lawyers and certain medical providers as a way to get around the ban that prevents Michigan lawyers from cold-calling car accident victims.

These proxy groups then call to “inform” people who’ve been involved in car accidents about their Michigan No-Fault PIP benefits – which naturally involves pointing them to a certain medical provider. This doctor, chiropractor or clinic – or the investigator from whatever “victim information service” that comes to this person’s home – then steers these people to sign-up with the personal injury lawyer.

The game then goes like this: there is a lot of pressure put on this person to keep treating with medical providers. This pressure comes from the medical provider and the lawyer. These medical providers work up a big bill, submit it to the auto insurance company, and the lawyer starts a lawsuit for these doctor bills and other No-Fault benefits. The lawyer then takes 1/3 of everything, including the medical provider bills, as his legal fee. That, plus of course the kickback from the medical providers to the lawyer, make this very lucrative for the lawyers and for the medical providers and doctors.

No one really gives a damn about the person involved. Any settlement made for a third-party injury case for the injuries and pain and suffering is just bonus. It’s just gravy. The thing that makes this so clever is that because these are bills going to the No-Fault insurance company, it doesn’t matter how good or bad the underlying legal case would be for a third-party injury claim. The person who is steered could have the worst potential third-party case in the world, with 10 prior lawsuits and pre-existing injuries a mile long. The lawyer and the medical providers make all their money on the first-party side. Since it all gets submitted to the No-Fault provider as medical treatment, every single person these groups solicit is potential gold for the lawyers and medical providers involved.

Insurance companies can’t fight every case to trial. And so far they have decided, for whatever reason, to not go after the three personal injury law firms in Michigan who are most abusing the No-Fault system. So they pay, even if it is just a small part of the overall claim. And so it continues to build and get bigger. Yes, the insurance companies have decided to go after a few doctors and medical providers, but they have left these lawyers who are abusing the system alone.

Worse still is the irreparable harm being done to the image of the profession of law.

In the story ‘Ambulance chasing’ in the digital age, I was interviewed on the subject.

I believe the practice of “ambulance chasing” is abhorrent. These lawyers are doing great harm to the legal profession, and just as important, to many of the victims they are contacting. They are repeatedly pouncing on people in their darkest hours, such as the grieving father who lost his daughter in a tragic automobile accident in the Michigan Lawyers Weekly story.

The Michigan Lawyers Weekly story also touches (but not in depth) on how some of these Michigan attorneys are allegedly pushing their clients to get unnecessary medical treatment and fraudulently charging Michigan No-Fault; and the “beneficial relationship” between certain attorneys and medical providers.

We have a long way to go in repairing this problem. It’s definitely an issue for the Attorney General’s office, the Attorney Grievance Commission of Michigan, the State Bar of Michigan and the Michigan Legislature to fix.

I do have a few suggestions on where to start:

1. Pass a barratry statute in Michigan: I feel the best thing we can do now is pass a version of the barratry statute that was recently passed in Texas. Barratry is generally a misdemeanor punishable by fine or imprisonment.

2. Make police reports unavailable for 30 or better still, 90 days: I believe making police reports unavailable until 30 or 90 days, versus as now when they are available to anyone just hours after a car accident, would go a long way to preventing fraud and No-Fault abuse. It would certainly better protect the people involved in car accidents who are being repeatedly contacted by lawyers and medical providers. Here’s what I told Michigan Lawyers Weekly: “We could have legislation that prohibits an injured person from being contacted by anyone for a certain period of time. But it would have to be the law that no one could contact them, not the lawyers, not the health care providers. No one.”

3. RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act): Since there is only a small group of personal injury attorneys, chiropractors, physical therapy and medical providers who are the main abusers of the No-Fault system in Michigan today, a targeted RICO claim seems like an appropriate measure to stop this practice in its tracks. A RICO claim is a law that provides for criminal penalties and a civil cause of action for acts performed as part of a criminal organization. RICO focuses on racketeering, and it allows for leaders of to be tried for the crimes that they ordered others to do or help them with.

What suggestions do you have to stop ambulance chasing in Michigan? Tell us by making a comment below.

Steven M. Gursten is a personal injury attorney and head of Michigan Auto Law. He is president of the Motor Vehicle Trial Lawyers Association. He is a Michigan Lawyers Weekly Lawyer of the Year, and is available for comment.

Related information:

Cappers, runners and ambulance chasers, oh my!

Michigan Supreme Court backs down on attorney solicitation

Michigan Auto Law exclusively handles car accident, truck accident and motorcycle accident cases throughout the entire state of Michigan. We have offices in Farmington Hills, Sterling Heights, Ann Arbor, Grand Rapids and Detroit. Call (800) 777-0028 or to speak with one of our Michigan personal injury attorneys.

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