Michigan attorneys engaging in criminal ‘ambulance chasing’ are costing clients by putting them under the microscope by auto insurers’ ‘special investigations units’
Yesterday, one of my clients brought in several lawyer solicitation letters and packages he received in the days and hours following his high-speed, rear-end car accident, from attorneys engaging in illegal solicitation. This is known as “ambulance chasing” and it happens every day in Michigan.
These attorneys increasingly target auto accident victims in cities all across Metro Detroit by looking up their police reports and contacting them within hours and days of a serious crash. These attorneys will mail letters, show up at hospitals and even knock on doors when the police reports show the injuries are serious enough. The practice is illegal in Michigan, but that hasn’t stopped attorneys from doing it.
After all, it works.
The days after a car accident is when a person is most vulnerable. And since the Michigan Attorney Grievance Commission has until now turned a deliberate blind eye to the practice of attorneys contacting auto accident victims in the first 30 days, the criminal laws against this become suggestions only. Without public enforcement of this 30-day prohibition, other personal injury lawyers see how well and how many cases the lawyers have who are doing this (we all know who the major law firms are who are doing this) and they decide to jump on the bandwagon. This fails to protect the public and gives the entire legal profession a black eye.
Aside from the fact that these solicitation lawyers are woefully underqualified and that they’re actually breaking the law, there are even more reasons auto accident victims should steer clear.
First, why is it not only ugly but also illegal?
These lawyers are breaking Michigan’s “ambulance chaser” laws, which make it a crime punishable by fines and jail time to solicit legal business from auto accident victims in the days right after their crash.
But remember what I said above. Everyone in the business knows who these attorneys are who are committing illegal “solicitation.” These law firms are already on the auto insurance industry’s “red flag” list, meaning any of the cases they handle are almost always assigned to the insurers’ “special investigations unit.” This often shuts down payment of lost wages and medical care.
The attorneys doing this don’t care, of course, since they actually want the claim to go into litigation as soon as possible. Once a lawsuit is started, these attorneys can now take a bigger attorney fee on the medical bills and wage loss. It’s a lot harder for an attorney to justify taking an attorney fee on a claim when No Fault benefits are being paid voluntarily by an insurer.
Clients get hurt, but the attorneys win.
The attorneys are making most of their money on the first-party bills, not on the injury claim, so they aren’t hurt by this tougher defense of the pain and suffering claim by the insurer.
But the clients are.
Automobile accident cases that come under the scrutiny of an insurer’s “special investigations” are examined as if under a microscope.
This type of investigation should be reserved exclusively for criminals who are trying to perpetrate a fraud on Michigan’s auto insurance system. Rightly, we want people who abuse the No Fault system to be caught by the insurers and prosecuted to the full extent of the law.
However, what we don’t want are innocent motor vehicle accident victims who have truly and legitimately been injured in a motor vehicle accident to be treated like potential criminals just because the lawyer they’ve chosen is on the insurers’ red flag list due to his solicitation activities.
To avoid having an otherwise meritorious auto accident case being treated like a possible fraud scheme, it’s crucial to choose your lawyer wisely. If someone sticks a lawyer’s business card in your hand at the emergency room, or on your way to a medical appointment or doctor’s waiting area, it’s a good warning for you to stay away.
It’s imperative you avoid lawyers who engage in illegal auto accident solicitation and, thus, avoid lawsuit-killing “guilt by association.”
What is ‘ambulance chasing’ or illegal solicitation in Michigan?
If a lawyer or somebody at his urging – a lawyer or non-lawyer proxy – contacts a car accident victim or someone in the victim’s family within 30 days of the accident victim being injured in a motor vehicle crash, then that lawyer has committed the crime of “ambulance chasing.”
Specifically, Michigan’s prohibition on “ambulance chasing” lawyers forbids lawyers from directly soliciting legal business from a car accident victim or family during the first 30 days after an auto accident … or risk fines up to $30,000 or $60,000 and jail up to one year:
- Lawyers and non-lawyers working on their behalf are prohibited from contacting car accident victims [i.e., “any individual … [who] has sustained a personal injury as a direct result of a motor vehicle accident”] or their family members “with a direct solicitation” of the victims’ legal business during the first “30 days after the date of [the victims’] motor vehicle accident.” (MCL 750.410b(1))
- 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. (MCL 257.503(1)(a) and (b))