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Support builds for bills to criminalize lawyers who solicit accident victims

After being passed by the Michigan House Of Representatives by nearly 10 to 1 margin, HB 4770-4771 gain important backing before Senate Judiciary Committee

knocking on door ambulance chasing

Legislation that would impose jail time and fines ranging from $15,000 to $30,000 for Michigan lawyers who solicit accident victims gained significant support during a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

After being passed by the Michigan House of Representatives on October 9, 2013 by a vote of 98 in favor and 10 opposed, House Bills 4770 and 4771 – which propose much-needed protection against aggressive, intrusive and overreaching mail solicitations from “ambulance chasing” lawyers – got a very favorable reception during their first hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, October 22, 2013.

The following individuals and the organizations they represent voiced support for HB 4770 and 4771:

  • My friend Tom Waun, Negligence Law Section of the State Bar of Michigan, and the Michigan Association for Justice: Support
  • Bill Jackson, Michigan Insurance Coalition: Support (HB 4771 only)
  • Dyck Van Koevering, Insurance Institute of Michigan: Support
  • Kevin McKinney, The Coalition Protecting Auto No-Fault: Support
  • Sgt. Amy Dehner, Michigan State Police: Support (HB 4770 only)

This is an improvement from the June 13, 2013 hearing before the House Judiciary Committee, where only the the State Bar of Michigan’s Negligence Section and the Michigan Association for Justice came out in support of HB 4770 and 4771, and the Michigan State Police took a “neutral” position.

In terms of opposition, personal injury lawyers from only one law firm came out against HB 4770 and 4771: they are attorneys Steven Matz and Samuel Pietsch of the Law Office of Matz & Pietsch.

‘Ambulance chasing’ lawyer bills: HB 4770-4771

Below is a description of how HB 4770 and 4771 propose to bring an end to the aggressive, intrusive and overreaching mail solicitations from “ambulance chasing” lawyers in Michigan:

  • 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.

More can (and needs to) be done to stop ambulance chasing lawyers, runners and cappers in Michigan

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

But, they are first steps.  Michigan still lags behind the protections that most other states have instituted.  And as I’ve 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 have proposed the “5-Point Auto Accident Victims Privacy Protection Plan.”

 

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