Coming on the heels of Tom Girardi and all the new State Bar IOLTA rules he forced on us honest lawyers, I felt this article focusing on unethical attorneys was appropriate. Having grown up on movies like The Rainmaker, I am very familiar with this topic as a blue-collar worker and now a white-collar personal injury attorney in Los Angeles. But sadly, this practice takes place in many states, according to the American Bar Association.
In a car accident or a personal injury event, you want a reliable personal injury lawyer by your side—someone who genuinely cares about accident victims with a goal to engage and represent their best interests cheerfully. However, in Southern California, the accident victim must be on the lookout for ambulance chasers after dollars, especially after a car accident.
This article by Los Angeles personal injury attorney Michael Ehline seeks to explore the ethical rules, professional conduct, and other issues with the state bar. In the end, this hyper-focused article will explain how to get a referral to seek compensation from bad lawyers who broke professional ethics rules to solicit business.
If you hire the wrong lawyer, the advice you obtain here will help you. Even if you live in another part of the world, reading this piece is in your best interest to help you decide your next steps and protect your legal rights as an accident victim.
What Is an Ambulance Chaser?
- Definition: The term “ambulance chaser” is a derogatory word that refers to a personal injury attorney who solicits accident victims using low-class, pernicious methods that reduce public trust in the legal profession.
- The Act: Ambulance chasing, also known as “barratry” or “unlawful solicitation,” involves the unethical and often illegal practice of lawyers or individuals contacting accident victims or their families shortly after an accident to encourage them to file a lawsuit or claim.
Sometimes, these lawyers “chase” ambulances to accident scenes. Their goal is to hand out business cards and offer legal services to stressed-out people who just got injured. They aim to capitalize on vulnerable victims and the ensuing chaos they face, making it easier to get a signature on the dotted line.
These vultures in eagle’s clothing may make enticements like a cash advance, huge settlements, or another false promise to get your signature on a retainer agreement.
Are Ambulance Chasers Bad?
Absolutely. Besides breaking the ethical rules, ambulance pursuit attorneys rarely deliver the individualized care and assistance you deserve in your case. These charlatans will often seek quick resolution but do not always negotiate an ideal outcome for their clients. They are also known for using their family members or friends with other companies to offer you high-interest case funding loans and cutting deals with doctors to inflate your medical bills, leaving you broke while they make a quick buck!
Legal Standpoint on Ambulance Chasers in California
California has codified a strict, punishing legal framework for bad actors chasing ambulances. Yet, this is still a common practice that has greatly harmed the reputation of the legal profession across the country.
Civil and Criminal Penalties for Ambulance Chasing in California
In California, both civil and criminal penalties can apply to those engaged in ambulance chasing:
- State Bar of California: The State Bar of California, which the lawyer community can take disciplinary actions against attorneys involved in ambulance chasing of new clients. Administrative penalties may include temporary or permanent suspension or even disbarment.
- Victim Lawsuits: Victims of ambulance chasing may file civil lawsuits against the individuals or attorneys involved, seeking damages for any harm they have suffered. Damages can include compensation for emotional distress, legal fees, and other losses. Remember, a bad lawyer with poor expertise can cost you your case. One who breaks the ethics rules is more likely to cause problems.
In California, being a runner or capper can be considered a criminal offense, typically charged as a misdemeanor. Individuals engaged in unlawful solicitation may face penalties, including fines and possible imprisonment if convicted. The solicited party may also be entitled to criminal restitution from the evildoer.
California has specific laws governing ambulance-chasing, including:
- Business and Professions Code Section 6152: Over ten years ago, starting in 2011, the California Business and Professions Code Section 6152 spelled out the legislative scheme for punishing predatory runners, cappers, and solicitors at wreck sites. This section makes it illegal for attorneys to solicit clients who have been involved in accidents within 15 days of the accident. The repercussions for lawyers who get caught are severe, with potential $15,000 fines or a year or less in county jail.
- California Business and Professions Code Section 6154: This section recognizes that, like fraudulent contracts, one obtained by unethical means is also void. So besides a potential jail sentence, under California Business and Professions Code Section 6154, any professional services contract your attorney obtained using a runner or capper is null and void as a matter of law. What Does This Signify for Clients? Annulling a contract suggests that any service fees you may have paid are eligible for a refund, offering safeguards for victims of such schemes.
Why It’s Best to Avoid Ambulance Chasers
In summary, pressuring someone dealing with the stress of an accident to hire a lawyer immediately is both unethical and illegal.
Apart from the legal concerns, here are more compelling reasons to steer clear of ambulance chaser lawyers in California:
- Unsolicited Approaches: A significant red flag is when a lawyer or their representative approaches you shortly after an accident and tries to coerce you into signing papers you don’t understand.
- High-Pressure Sales Tactics: If you feel pressured to hastily sign a retainer agreement, trust your instincts, take a step back, and start asking questions. Ambulance chaser lawyers frequently resort to high-pressure tactics to secure your quick agreement. Making a hasty decision when choosing a lawyer can lead to protracted legal battles, smaller settlements, or even losing a case that could have been won.
- Promises of Quick Settlements: Be cautious of lawyers who promise swift settlements without thoroughly understanding the complexities of your case. Realistic and honest lawyers will acknowledge that unpredictable outcomes often take time.
- Lack of Clear Communication: A reputable lawyer will provide transparent information regarding their fees, processes, and potential outcomes. If you encounter evasiveness or a lack of straightforwardness, reconsider your choice.
- Negative Reviews or Disciplinary Actions: Conduct thorough research. If an attorney has numerous unfavorable reviews or a history of disciplinary actions, it’s a strong indication to seek representation elsewhere.
- Unethical Conduct: Ambulance-chasing lawyers often operate in the gray area of ethical boundaries. In California, it is considered unprofessional for lawyers to approach potential clients without being solicited, raising doubts about their professional integrity and how they will handle your case.
- Lack of Genuine Care: Personal injury cases necessitate understanding, empathy, and a sincere commitment to the client’s recovery. Ambulance-chasing lawyers, driven by aggressive tactics and the pursuit of swift settlements, may not provide the personal attention and care that your situation warrants.
- Inadequate Representation: Ambulance chaser lawyers often prioritize fast settlements over achieving the best outcome for their clients. This rush can result in less thorough evidence gathering, weaker negotiation with the opposing party, or inadequate trial preparation.
The key issue with ambulance chasers is their desire to secure your commitment quickly, resolve your case promptly to collect their fees, and move on to the next client. The main problem is poor or mixed results based on past examples. Beware, while many exceptional attorneys in California are genuinely committed to helping clients, ambulance chaser lawyers rarely share the same intentions. We hope these tips make it easier for you to distinguish a promising lawyer over a crummy one. Knowing the warning signs makes it easy for clients to make an informed decision.
How Do “Ambulance Chasers” Obtain Accident Victims’ Information?
Some individuals may not be aware that the law permits access to information for those who have accessed their police records, such as a police report. Therefore, anyone who has been injured or involved in an automobile accident can request copies if they wish. Typically, your contact information and phone number are included, making it easy for a searcher to find you.
They may claim to understand your goals, but it’s important to note that this tactic doesn’t always succeed. Their aim is to leverage your accident to secure additional compensation from the insurance company for a personal injury case.
Other Tactics Used By Ambulance Chasing Lawyers
Untrustworthy law firm lawyers employ many tactics in their search to identify potential clients, as follows:
- Tow truck drivers
- Police scanners
- First responders, nurses, or a doctor getting a cut
- Shady police officers
- Other lawyers who violate confidentiality rules or bad lawyers hang out in hospital lobbies
- Hospital staff on the take
- Bad judges making cash on the side
- Direct solicitation of clients at the accident scene
- Other personal injury victims getting a cut
- Family members are seeking an illegal referral fee.
In some situations, individuals may pose as witnesses but are actually informants for their attorneys. These attorneys may search for accident victims through news stories, visiting them in the hospital or at home after their release, or making contact over the phone. In certain cases, it might not be a legitimate attorney seeking clients; some lawyers pay tow truck and ambulance drivers and emergency room personnel to distribute their business cards to accident victims, a covert practice that is considered a misdemeanor in California. Others engage in mass mailings to solicit clients, acting on a mass tort or incident. They do this, particularly in neighborhoods with instances of faulty home construction, and it may or may not be ethical. In certain cities, courier services scour police records and provide lawyers with potential client names for a fee as well.
What Other Practices Are Unethical?
This section provides an example of unprofessional behavior, but these aren’t exhaustive lists either. Whenever an attorney receives money from its clients, it must be kept in the same IOLTA account because it is the clients’ money. Some lawyers do not obey these guidelines. Also, lawyers often fail to check for conflicts of interest properly.
A lawyer should remain loyal. This means a lawyer soliciting cannot stand by defending his client if a client has conflicting views. This is especially true if the lawyer has already mishandled the client by being an ambulance chaser using cappers and runners.
Research Your Personal Injury Lawyer
Lawyers across the United States depend on the Martindale-Hubbell Directory for efficient, precise assessments and evaluations of attorneys. Martindale-Hubbell ranks lawyers based on reviews from their client list and peers they work with. Highly qualified lawyers may also hold distinctions like AV Preeminent, Distinguished, or Notable.
Another valuable resource for finding legal professionals for your legal research is your state or national bar association. In California, for instance, you can access the bar association’s website to search for attorneys with the necessary licenses and qualifications.
How Long Should I Wait Until I Retain An Attorney?
If you’ve been in a car accident, assessing your physical condition is important before hiring an attorney. When selecting an attorney, choosing someone with expertise in your specific type of practice area is in your best interest. An attorney who engages in unethical practices is unlikely to have your best interests at heart. If you’re still facing medical expenses after seeking medical care, it’s advisable to contact a qualified attorney without delay. Your health is a top priority, and following a medical evaluation, you should decide whether pursuing legal action is necessary. What if I sign a retainer with an ambulance chaser and then change my mind?
In general, in some states, a contract with the plaintiffs’ attorneys is not valid if they have been approached for legal assistance. It involves solicitations or visits from lawyers’ employees within the firm.
Contact Ehline Law Firm
The best way to find a non-ambulance-chasing lawyer is through referrals from friends, family, and other established lawyers in another practice area. A lawyer approaching you in the street after a crash is likely an ambulance chaser and dishonest. Did you or a loved one suffer injuries in a California personal injury accident? If so, contact Ehline Law and consult with our charismatic team. Discover how our representatives and investigators can help you using our years of experience, ethical conduct, and client-centric approach. We are ready to hear your story and have an honest discussion.
Attorney Michael Ehline has also represented insurance companies, so he understands how companies try to take advantage of accident victims throughout the complicated process. Our honest team fights for clients and keeps an eye out to make sure they receive adequate compensation for their injuries or death claims.
Contact Ehline Law for a free consultation today if you’re looking for a good lawyer with resources in California. We are ready to discuss your options. Our team has knowledge of the specific rules and can help wary clients sue their prior counsel for violating their legal rights after signing a retainer.
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Michael Ehline is an inactive U.S. Marine and world-famous legal historian. Michael helped draft the Cruise Ship Safety Act and has won some of U.S. history’s largest motorcycle accident settlements. Together with his legal team, Michael and the Ehline Law Firm collect damages on behalf of clients. We pride ourselves on being available to answer your most pressing and difficult questions 24/7. We are proud sponsors of the Paul Ehline Memorial Motorcycle Ride and a Service Disabled Veteran Operated Business. (SDVOB.) We are ready to fight.
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