Proposed law Would Prohibit Attorney Solicitation of Auto Accident Victims

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HB 4770-71 would stop ambulance chasing lawyers from contacting people 30 days after a car accident and punish the attorneys who do solicit with up to $30,000 in fines and a possible felony, says attorney Steven Gursten of Michigan Auto Law

These laws would strictly prohibit lawyers from contacting accident victims within the first 30 days of a crash, and the punishments are severe.

There is a new package of bills aiming to stop a practice called "attorney solicitation" in Michigan, where injury lawyers download police accident reports and use them to call victims of motor vehicle accidents and mail them solicitation packages, says attorney Steven Gursten, head of Michigan Auto Law in Farmington Hills.

"The real "ambulance chasers" engage in this practice to drum up business by preying on people when they're at their most vulnerable – immediately after a crash when the injuries, the stress and the loss are just setting in; and when people have lots of questions about what will happen next," Gursten said. "But these lawyers might not be able to harass car crash victims for much longer."

There are two new proposed laws that address attorney solicitation in Michigan, and they carry some harsh consequences, Gursten said.

HB 4770, sponsored by Rep. Ellen Cogen Lipton (D-27th District): This law only allows certain people and agencies to access an accident victim's police report within 30 days of the crash, therefore prohibiting injury lawyers from accessing the information and contacting the accident victims.

Under HB 4770, only the following people are allowed to access accident reports within the first 30 days:

  • Individuals, vehicle owners and property owners involved in the motor vehicle accident.
  • A family member of an individual involved in the motor vehicle accident.
  • The representative of an individual, vehicle owner or property owner involved in the motor vehicle accident (as contacted by the accident victim).
  • The attorney general or other prosecutor.
  • The insurance producer, insurer, or employee or agent of an individual, vehicle owner or property owner involved in the motor vehicle accident.
  • An employee of a radio or television station licensed by the Federal Communications Commission.
  • A local, state or federal government agency that's authorized to have access to a report in furtherance of the agency's duties.
  • An entity that is authorized by a law enforcement agency to manage the law enforcement agency's reports.
  • An employee of a newspaper.

The people or organizations that are authorized to access the motor vehicle accident reports are required to submit certain documentation in order to access the accident reports.

The punishment: A person or attorney who violates the proposed law would be guilty of a felony punishable by imprisonment for up to two years or a fine of up to $15,000, or both.

HB 4771, sponsored by Rep. Joseph Graves (R-51st District): A person is not allowed to intentionally contact an accident victim or family member of that victim with a direct solicitation to provide a service until 30 days after the accident.

This doesn't apply if the accident victim has requested contact from that person.

Under HB 4771, "Direct solicitation" means "a verbal or written solicitation or offer, including by electronic means, made to the injured individual or a family member seeking employment to provide a service that is based upon the knowledge or belief that the individual has sustained a personal injury and that is directed toward that individual or a family member."

The punishment: A misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $15,000 for the first violation and up to $30,000 for a second or subsequent violation(s).

The current law on attorney solicitation in Michigan

There is a Michigan Rule of Professional Conduct (Rule 7.3 regarding Direct Contact with Prospective Clients) that prohibits attorneys in Michigan from soliciting and contacting accident victims by phone or mail.

But the rule has a very large loophole. It allows lawyers "sending truthful and non deceptive letters to potential clients known to face particular legal problems," Gursten noted.

"It didn’t take long for many injury lawyers to figure out how to get around the direct contact of car accident victims ban. Many attorneys are now using proxies such as chiropractors and front organizations they create themselves to get around the rule," Gursten said. "These lawyers also send mail packages with a copy of the crash victim's police report and glossy promotional materials, because sending the police report creates the loophole that enables them to send the glossy marketing materials too."

Gursten said that HB 4770-71 are an important start to protecting auto accident victims. He hopes these bills will stop unethical attorney solicitation.

"These laws would strictly prohibit lawyers from contacting accident victims within the first 30 days of a crash, and the punishments are severe. Beyond that, they prohibit everyone else from contacting accident victims, like healthcare providers or other front organizations that are commonly used to get around the rules," Gursten said. "When attorney solicitation is banned, it will give accident victims time to grieve, and if they choose, find the lawyer who has the best credentials to protect them."

About Steven M. Gursten: Steven M. Gursten is an attorney and head of Michigan Auto Law. He is president of the Motor Vehicle Trial Lawyers Association and serves as an executive board member of the American Association for Justice (AAJ) Traumatic Brain Injury Lawyer Group. Gursten is also past co-chair of the Michigan Association for Justice Automobile Accident No-Fault Committee and past-president of the AAJ Truck Accident Litigation Group. He speaks at legal seminars across the country on insurance, No-Fault litigation and helping auto accident victims. Steve is available for comment.

About Michigan Auto Law: Michigan Auto Law has 18 lawyers exclusively handling auto accident and No-Fault insurance litigation throughout the state. The law firm has received the top-reported jury verdict for a car or truck accident victim for the past 15 consecutive years, according to published reports by Michigan Lawyers Weekly. Michigan Auto Law has offices in Farmington Hills, Sterling Heights, Detroit, Ann Arbor and Grand Rapids. For more information, call Michigan Auto Law at (800) 777-0028.

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Natalie Lombardo
Michigan Auto Law
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