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House votes for 30-day wait for accident reports – to stop ambulance chasing lawyers

By nearly a 10 to 1 margin, Michigan House Of Representatives passes Bills 4770 & 4771, which would criminalize solicitation of crash victims

Fines, and even jail time may be in store for the personal injury lawyers in Michigan who have been using police reports to solicit – either directly or through hiring non-lawyer proxies to do this for them. Fines ranging from $15,000 to $30,000 may also be in the future for these “ambulance chasing” lawyers in Michigan under two bills passed by the Michigan House of Representatives yesterday, October 9, 2013.

The full House voted 98 in favor and 10 opposed to House Bills 4770 and 4771, which will finally do something to address an issue that I have written about many times on this law blog – the much-needed protection of the public against overly aggressive and  intrusive mail solicitations, phone calls, and even the knocking on doors from some “ambulance chasing” injury lawyers. This is occurring throughout Michigan and on a widespread scale in cities like Detroit.

  • Under HB 4770, as passed by the full House, 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 full House, 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 full House, 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 and subsequent offenses are also misdemeanors, but they are punishable by “imprisonment” up to one year and/or a $30,000 fine.

Originally, the punishments under the bills were slightly different:

  • A violation of HB 4770, whether it was a first, second or sequent offense, was a felony punishable by “imprisonment” up to two years and/or a $15,000 fine. Now, the felony status has been dropped and the maximum term of imprisonment has been reduced from two years to one.
  • A second or subsequent violation of HB 4771 was a misdemeanor punishable only by a $30,000 fine. Now, the punishment has been stepped up to include imprisonment up to one year, which can take the place of or be combined with the originally designated $30,000 fine.

As I’ve written before, the proposals in both bills are good first steps toward stopping these shameful practices that diminish the legal profession in the eyes of the public. These shameful practices also take advantage of an unsuspecting public and have also played a huge role in the growing problem of PIP/No Fault fraud that lawyers and insurance companies are seeing.

But, I still believe more should be done.  I believe the need to protect auto accident victims should require at least a 90-day wait period before direct solicitation can be made by attorneys and other organizations.

Accordingly, in addition to supporting HB 4770 and 4771 and encouraging lawmakers to [finally] pass this much needed legislation, I have also  proposed my own  “5-Point plan” to protect auto accident victims and their privacy. It should be noted that much of this has come from what I see as the current president of the Motor Vehicle Trial Lawyers Association, from speaking at seminars in other states and talking to lawyers who practice in states that already have existing (and stronger) laws in place.

  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.)

To read more about each of the 5 points discussed above, please check out Michigan Auto Law’s blog post, “5-Point Plan to Protect Auto Accident Victims from ‘Ambulance Chasing Lawyers.’”

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Blog Author Steven M. Gursten
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