I detest ambulance chasers. I’m sure you’re familiar with the term “ambulance chaser” as a derogatory term applied by many people to almost any lawyer who represents people injured car wrecks, car/truck accidents and other accidents involving automobiles and vehicles of all types.
Included, of course, are wrongful death cases.
An example of an “ambulance chaser” was famously depicted by Danny DeVito in Mississippi native John Grisham’s novel The Rainmaker. “Ambulance chasers” are not limited to lawyers who solicit injury victims’ cases person-to-person or by someone hired by them, they will often seek out other types of cases, such as workers’ compensation (on the job) injuries, medical malpractice or persons injured on another’s property (premises liability cases).
In the U.S., there’s a lot of work for ambulance chasers, as there were 33,500 fatalities from car wrecks in 2012 (see report).
“Ambulance chasing “ is unethical by the Rules of Professional Conduct in every state, and illegal in most, if not all states. But what is “ambulance chasing?” Ambulance chasing is the direct solicitation of employment by an attorney or someone hired by him (or her).
In other words, from the injured person’s perspective (or the grieving family in the case of wrongful death) either a lawyer or someone working for him shows up at the hospital or your home after discharge and gets you to sign up with a particular lawyer.
Now what’s wrong with that?
Well, many things. First, a person who has been injured in an car or truck accident has just been through a very traumatic event, is often in pain and disabled and is no condition to make the very serious decision of which lawyer should represent them. The same holds true for grieving relatives in wrongful death cases.
Secondly, the person doing the soliciting is taking advantage of that fact and often lies about the ability or success record of the lawyer seeking to be hired. (I’m not going to let my defense lawyer colleagues—those that represent the insurance companies and defend the persons or companies at fault off the hook—we know they “ambulance chase” too, just in a different way—lavish parties for claims managers, tickets to football games and other events, you know what I mean).
The smart “ambulance chaser,” that is, the lawyer, will usually not solicit the case themselves—they have someone do it for them. And often even that person will not contact the injured person directly; they may find a relative or friend of that person and persuade them to arrange a “visit” and then have the injured person or grieving widow call their lawyer.
There are many ways to do this, and it gives the real villain, the ambulance chasing lawyer, the ability to deny they did anything wrong. (“He/she called me.”)
The rules of ethics against ambulance chasing are rarely enforced and chasing is rampant.
But these people do not have the client’s best interest at heart and often are not experienced or qualified to handle the case. And, frankly, they take business from lawyers that are ethical, experienced and qualified.
They give the profession a bad name, doing more damage to the already damaged reputation of the profession.