Two important bills to limit attorney access to police reports passed out of House Judiciary Committee last week
Michigan is now one step closer to limiting a blight on the legal profession. In recent years, personal injury lawyers in Michigan have been downloading police reports from the Internet and, sometimes within hours of a person being injured in a car accident, sending solicitation materials.
This access led to an escalating arms race as other injury lawyers saw how well this worked. And sending mail soon turned into other more aggressive forms of solicitation, some of it legal, much of it not. It also led to these injury lawyers hiring “proxy groups” such as non-lawyers and chiropractors to contact these people at home, either by calling them directly or even coming to their houses and knocking on their doors.
This practice is incredibly disrespectful to the family who has just lost a loved one, or who has had a spouse or child seriously injured in a motor vehicle accident. And it is – as I’ve said and as my law partner testified before the Michigan Legislature – incredibly demeaning to the legal profession.
But this ugly practice may soon be a thing of the past. Last week, the Michigan House of Representatives’ Judiciary Committee voted House Bills 4770 and 4771 out of committee.
HB 4770, sponsored by Rep. Ellen Cogen Lipton (D-27th District): Under this law, lawyers and non-lawyers working on their behalf are prohibited during the first 30 days after a car accident from accessing auto accident victims’ motor vehicle accident reports and using their information to solicit legal business.
HB 4771, sponsored by Rep. Joseph Graves (R-51st District): Under this law, lawyers and non-lawyers working on their behalf are prohibited during the first 30 days after an auto accident from directly soliciting (either by mail or otherwise) crash victims for legal business.
The punishments are steep. According to the versions of HB 4770 and 4771 passed by the House Judiciary Committee, the punishment for violation of the laws would be 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.
HB 4770-4771 are great first steps toward stopping the terrible practices of “ambulance chasing” by injury lawyers in Michigan.
But as an attorney, I still believe more needs to be done to protect accident victims. For example, I believe that 30 days is not long enough. So in addition to encouraging lawmakers to pass these bills, I’ve also proposed the following “5-Point Plan to Protect Auto Accident Victims from ‘Ambulance Chasing Lawyers.’”
Overly aggressive lawyer solicitation is an ugly problem. Steps should have been taken to stop this long ago by the Michigan Bar Association, or even by Attorney General Bill Schuette. But at least an important first step has now been taken to protect the public.