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Legislation to stop ‘ambulance chasing’ lawyers gets green light from House Committee

With strong bi-partisan support, House Judiciary Committee approves Bills 4770 and 4771, limiting access to car accident victims

ambulance_chasing

This morning I was interviewed on WJR’s Michigan Morning Show, which broadcasts on 15 different radio stations across Michigan. The topic was how we’ve moved now one step closer to limiting access to police reports and restricting the ability of third parties, sadly including many overly-aggressive “ambulance chasing” lawyers, from directly soliciting recent automobile accident victims.

You can listen to the full radio interview with host Steve Gruber here:

I’m vehemently opposed to this practice. Here are some blog posts I’ve written on the terrible effects of attorney solicitation:

Passing HB 4770-4771 is next step in halting “ambulance chasing” lawyers

How to solve the ambulance chasing problem in Michigan

Cappers, runners and ambulance chasers, oh my!

The current law allows many injury attorneys, health care providers and other groups to download and access UD-10 police reports from recent car accidents (some within hours of the crash), and then contact the victims by phone calls and mail.  I’ve even had several clients report to me that after their auto accidents, they had people knocking on their doors at night.  The current situation is incredibly ugly, and it is in dire need for change.

And now change is on its way. Yesterday, the Michigan House of Representatives’ Judiciary Committee voted House Bills 4770 and 4771 out of committee by a near unanimous vote (10 in favor and one absention):

  • Under HB 4770, as passed by the Judiciary Committee, which was sponsored by Rep. Ellen Cogen Lipton (D-27th District), who is a respected member of the Michigan Bar, lawyers and non-lawyers working on their behalf are prohibited during the first 30 days after a crash from accessing auto accident victims’ personal information in “motor vehicle accident reports” and using that information to solicit the victims’ legal business.
  • Under HB 4771, as passed by the Judiciary Committee, which was sponsored by Rep. Joseph Graves (R-51st District), lawyers and non-lawyers working on their behalf are prohibited during the first 30 days after a “motor vehicle accident” from directly soliciting (either by mail or otherwise) “motor vehicle accident” victims for their legal business.

According to the versions of HB 4770 and 4771 passed by the House Judiciary Committee, the punishment for violation of the restrictions contained in the bills is as follows:

  • First offense is a misdemeanor and a $15,000 fine.
  • Second offense is felony, punishable by up to 2 years in prison, and a $30,000 fine.

As I have said before, the proposals in both bills are excellent steps toward stopping the shameful practices of “ambulance chasing” lawyers in Michigan.

But, as I have also said before, more needs to be done to restrict access to auto accident victims’ personal information and to limit actual solicitations.

Accordingly, in addition to supporting HB 4770 and 4771 and encouraging lawmakers to pass the legislation, I’ve previously proposed the following “5-Point Plan to Protect Auto Accident Victims from ‘Ambulance Chasing Lawyers.’”

  1. A ‘do not mail’ registry should be created for auto accident victims. (The registry would be modeled on the federal “Do Not Call” registry used to stop phone solicitations from telemarketers.)
  2. Access to motor vehicle accident reports (containing victims’ personal information) should be permanently restricted This would be accomplished by replacing HB 4770’s 30-day restriction with a permanent restriction.
  3. Law enforcement should be banned from disclosing auto accident victims’ personal information. This disclosure ban would be based on the Michigan Driver Privacy Protection Act, which bars the Secretary of State from releasing drivers’ personal information for “the purpose of … solicitations.
  4. Auto accident victims’ personal information should be covered by the Michigan FOIA Privacy Exemption. This would clarify that disclosure of auto accident victims’ personal information from motor vehicle accident reports “would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of an individual’s privacy.”
  5. Direct mail solicitation of auto accident victims should be prohibited. This contemplates amending HB 4771 to impose a permanent ban on mail solicitations.
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