Gov. Snyder signs new law protecting auto accident victims from intrusive, aggressive and overreaching mail solicitations by ‘ambulance chasing’ attorneys
Congratulations to Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder for cleaning up Michigan personal injury law and protecting auto accident victims from ruthless and overly aggressive mail solicitations by “ambulance chasing” lawyers in Michigan.
On December 21, 2013, Gov. Snyder signed into law House Bills 4770 and 4771, which is historic legislation that imposes jail time and fines of up to $30,000 and $60,000 for “ambulance chasing” lawyers who, through the use of aggressive, intrusive and overreaching mail solicitations, intrude on the privacy of auto accident victims.
Sadly, this unscrupulous practice (and scourge on the reputation of the legal profession) has gone on for too long.
“Ambulance chasing” lawyers have “gamed” an ethics loophole which allows lawyers to use the mail to solicit legal business from auto accident victims, even though direct, face-to-face (or by telephone) solicitation is prohibited.
The “ambulance chasing” lawyers would buy and download the auto accident reports (prepared by the police) from the Internet. Then, within days or even hours of the crash being reported, the “ambulance chasing” lawyers would flood the mailboxes and doorsteps of auto accident victims with the lawyers’ glossy promotional materials in the hopes of soliciting the victims’ accident-related legal business.
Happily, this is a great start to bringing an end to those dark days.
Kudos to Gov. Snyder and lawmakers for tackling this important issue and providing auto accident victims with meaningful protection against the unscrupulous and intrusive practices of “ambulance chasing” lawyers in Michigan.
However, as I discuss below, this is really just the beginning.
There’s more – much more – that can and should be done to stop “ambulance chasing” once and for all.
No more ‘ambulance chasing’
Below is a description of how HB 4770 and 4771 (which are now known officially as Public Acts 218 and 219 of 2013) will bring an end to the aggressive, intrusive and overreaching mail solicitations from “ambulance chasing” lawyers in Michigan:
- Under HB 4770 (Public Act 218), 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 “[f]or 30 days after the date a motor vehicle accident report is filed with a law enforcement agency” from accessing the report to retrieve an auto accident victim’s “personal information” in order to solicit the victim’s legal business.
- Under HB 4771 (Public Act 219), which was sponsored by Rep. Joseph Graves (R-51st District), lawyers and non-lawyers working on their behalf are prohibited from contacting auto accident victims “with a direct solicitation” of the victims’ legal business during the first “30 days after the date of [the victims’] motor vehicle accident.”
According to HB 4770 and 4771 (Public Acts 218 and 219 of 2013), the punishment for violation of the restrictions on “ambulance chasing” lawyers is now as follows:
- First offense is a misdemeanor and up to a $30,000 fine.
- Second and subsequent offenses are also misdemeanors, but they are punishable by “imprisonment” up to one year and/or up to a $60,000 fine.
More can (and needs to) be done
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 have previously proposed the following “5-Point Auto Accident Victims Privacy Protection Plan”:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Auto accident victims’ person 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.”
- Direct mail solicitation of auto accident victims should be prohibited. This contemplates amending HB 4771 to impose a permanent ban on mail solicitations.