Recently, the topic of “Ambulance chasing,” or as its legally known in Michigan, Running and Capping, has been in the spotlight. A TV Attorney has been charged by the Attorney Grievance Commission of engaging in this sort of unethical (and potentially illegal) behavior. While that attorney will have his day in court in the coming weeks, it’s important to understand exactly what that behavior is and why it can hurt your case and your recovery if your attorney engaged in it.
“Ambulance chasing” is the practice of a personal injury attorney soliciting an accident victim immediately or near-immediately to try to get a case. The name comes from the fact that the most egregious behavior of this practice is literally chasing ambulances to hospitals to speak to the victim while they are being treated. While this attorney practice is distasteful everywhere, it is strictly illegal in Michigan and could completely eliminate the attorney’s right to collect fees for a case.
According to MCL 750.410(1), an official contract for attorney fees in any personal injury case will be “void” if the contract was created after the plaintiff was solicited unlawfully. The same is also true if the contract was solicited by someone working for the personal injury attorney. In effect, you can’t be charged attorney fees for your case, win or lose, if “ambulance chasing” methods were used to get your attention or signature, even if that “chaser” was a third-party.
But who would send a third-party stranger to try to get cases immediately after accidents? According to recent reports in Detroit and throughout Michigan, plenty of attorneys would try this suspicious tactic. The new trend is sending out an “investigator” who is interested in the accident for some sort of study, only this person just so happens to know an attorney the victim should call if they want to make a claim.
Michigan law has created several ways to penalize lawyers resorting to unlawful solicitation. In particular, ambulance chasing is a misdemeanor crime that can be punishable by up to 12 months in prison and $60,000 in fines. This monetary punishment is in addition to the loss of money that would have been collected in attorney fees. If the attorney fees have already been collected, the client has a real case to try to get those contingent fees returned back to them.
The State Bar of Michigan will also take action after an attorney has been convicted of unlawful solicitation. Disciplinary penalties from the State Bar can include a lengthy license suspension, or a complete disbarment if the attorney has clearly made a habit of ambulance chasing. The details of the penalties aside, the point is that ambulance chasing is wrong, both legally and morally, and should not be excused.
If you believe that you have been unlawfully solicited by a personal injury attorney, or someone working for such a lawyer, in Michigan, the Michigan Attorney Grievance Commission needs to know. You can click here to be taken to the organization’s website, specifically the page that has information pertinent to how to file a grievance. The more information you can provide the Commission, the better, so if you have actual documentation that shows when you were first approached by the attorney, be sure to provide it.
If you have more questions about personal injury law in Michigan and would like them answered by legal professionals that are genuinely concerned with your wellbeing, feel free to contact Goodman Acker, P.C. Our Detroit and Southfield personal injury lawyers are backed by more than 140 years of total legal experience, multiple multimillion dollar case results, and, most importantly, plenty of appreciative testimonials from real clients.
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