Recognizing the Tactics Used by “Ambulance Chaser” Lawyers is Crucial When Seeking Quality Legal Assistance for You or Your Loved Ones.

Exposing Ambulance Chasing Tactics and Ethical Concerns in New Jersey

When you hear the term “ambulance chasers,” what may immediately come to mind is the image of a lawyer running behind an ambulance, waving his briefcase in the air, and yelling. Or perhaps it’s an image of a lawyer following closely behind that ambulance, hands clutching the steering wheel and face awash in the red and white rotating glow of the emergency lights. Regardless of what you picture, the reality is very different, but that doesn’t make ambulance chasing any less disturbing. Whether you are looking for a lawyer for yourself or someone you love, knowing and recognizing the tactics these types of lawyers use can be an important step in avoiding them.

A Closer Look at Ambulance Chasing

Ambulance chasing, also known as barratry, is when lawyers seek out accident victims and solicit their business while they are vulnerable. The most common area of law to see lawyers engaging in this tactic is personal injury, which is why it began to be called ambulance chasing. However, while it may be most common in personal injury cases, this does not mean it cannot occur in other areas of the law. This is why it is so important that people understand what ambulance chasing is and why they should avoid it.

The Ethical Boundaries of Ambulance Chasing in New Jersey

There are a number of ethical concerns associated with ambulance chasing, starting with the fact that the American Bar Association (ABA) specifically states that it is prohibited. Ambulance chasing is seen by the ABA as solicitation, and is prohibited except under specific circumstances, such as when the contact is with another lawyer, is with someone who the attorney otherwise has a familial, close personal, or prior business or professional relationship with the individual, or the individual routinely uses the types of legal services the lawyer offers for business purposes.

It is important to understand that soliciting and marketing are two different things. Soliciting is the direct contact with a potential client that is initiated by the attorney when the attorney knows that an individual needs or is likely to need their services. Marketing or advertising is not directed at a specific individual, but an audience of people who may or may not need the lawyer’s services.

Another ethical concern with ambulance chasing is the vulnerability of the victim. Because ambulance chasing is most often practiced within the personal injury area of the law, these potential clients are people who have been in different types of accidents. This means they may be on pain or other medications or suffered head or brain injuries. Both medications and head or brain injuries can mean that the individual is not thinking clearly or able to make informed decisions. Therefore, they may sign a retainer with the ambulance chasing attorney without fully understanding what they have signed and agreed to.

Finally, lawyers who engage in ambulance chasing tactics are more likely to try using frightening or coercive tactics to persuade the vulnerable victim into choosing to work with them. The unfortunate victim later discovers that the lawyer is untrustworthy, dishonest, unprofessional, and often ill-equipped to handle their case, but by this time it may be too late for the victim to do anything.

Ambulance Chasing Legislation in New Jersey

New Jersey imposes civil penalties for ambulance chasing conduct within the state. Additionally, the law does not hold just the attorney responsible for ambulance chasing activities. The law states that anyone who knowingly engages in tactics that assist with ambulance chasing or benefits from the practice is also engaging in ambulance chasing.

Currently, the penalties for ambulance chasing are civil fines. However, as laws are frequently under review and changing, it is possible that this could change at any time. Other states currently punish ambulance chasing with penalties such as jail or prison time, revocation of the attorney’s license, or significant fines of $30,000 or more.

The Role of “Runners” in Ambulance Chasing

While the term ambulance chasers may bring up images of the attorney chasing an ambulance or hanging around at accident scenes or hospitals, this is not always the case. This is not to say that you would never be contacted directly by the lawyer, but because this tactic is unethical, attorneys who do this try to distance themselves in order to try to avoid getting caught.

Attorneys engaging in this tactic often hire people who have firsthand knowledge of accidents to report back to them about potential clients. These people are called “runners” or “investigators” and are often first responders, tow truck drivers, police officers, insurance adjusters, hospital employees, and others who work with people or have access to their information after an accident.

The “runner” or “investigator” may visit or call you and try to convince you to hire the attorney they work for, or they may report your contact information to the attorney so the attorney can contact you. Either way, the behavior remains unethical.

Distinguishing Between Genuine Concern and Ambulance Chasing

It may not always be easy to tell when someone is chasing you on behalf of an attorney and when someone is simply trying to be friendly, particularly if you are hospitalized and have new doctors, nurses, and other staff members coming in and out of your room frequently. When all the faces are unfamiliar, it can be difficult to tell who is legitimately supposed to be there and who is not.

One way to tell if you are being chased is by asking visitors that you don’t know if they are hospital staff. If they are not, and especially if they offer you money or transportation, chances are they are a runner for an attorney and trying to solicit your business.

Another way to tell is if you are at home and you receive a call from someone you do not know who knows you were in an accident. While there are legitimate instances where these calls may be legitimate, such as an insurance adjuster working on a Workers’ Compensation or car accident claim, you should be wary of speaking to anyone you do not know who is aware of your accident. Ask for names, claim numbers, and other details, and call companies yourself to confirm that the person calling you is legitimate.

A new method of ambulance chasing is geo-fencing. If you have ever gotten coupons or special offers for a specific store you are shopping in, you’ve been geo-fenced. Some attorneys are now using it to determine when someone has visited a hospital, pain clinic, urgent care center, chiropractor, or other healthcare facility. They will then push ads for the attorney on your phone and other devices. You may see these ads for a month or more once they start. Therefore, if you repeatedly see an ad for the same law firm after an accident, you can likely assume that they’ve used geo-fencing and are chasing you.

Protecting Yourself from Ambulance Chasers

Having a lawyer or someone who works for them approach you after an accident may seem like a good thing. You’re injured, tired, confused, and possibly hospitalized, and the last thing you want to do is research lawyers to find a good one. This can make it very tempting to give in and sign on with an ambulance chaser.

One way to avoid falling for an ambulance chaser is to ask yourself why they are approaching you. If they are qualified and good at their job, they should not need to come to you. They should be getting ample work through word of mouth and ethical, legal advertising methods. Ask yourself why they are approaching you and whether you really want to work with an attorney who has to chase down work.

Stay Vigilant Against the Strategies Utilized By Ambulance Chasers in Order to Safeguard Yourself or Your Loved Ones in Hamilton, NJ

Another way to avoid signing with an ambulance chaser is to check online reviews before signing anything. These types of lawyers often have negative reviews from many unhappy clients. If you look at reviews and see that the majority are negative, you can decline their services and insist they leave you alone, or you will report them to the state bar association.

Steps to Dissolve Contracts with Ambulance Chaser Lawyers

You may be worried that if you sign a retainer or contract with this type of lawyer, you are stuck with them and cannot do anything about it. Fortunately, this is not the case. You have options to get out of the contract and work with a compassionate, ethical attorney instead.

If you have signed up with an ambulance chaser lawyer and wish to explore your options, contact our office for a free consultation to go over your legal rights and options.

Methods To Retain a Good Attorney

Fortunately, there are several methods by which you can find and retain a skilled, experienced attorney.

Word of Mouth

Perhaps one of the best ways to find a good attorney is word of mouth. You can ask friends and family who have used this type of lawyer in the past who they used and how they felt about their experience. You can also ask neighbors, co-workers, and other people you interact with regularly, such as babysitters or the woman at the gym.

If you currently retain a lawyer for other needs, such as an estate planning or business attorney, you can also ask them for referrals. Any lawyer who is respected enough by other lawyers and judges to be suggested as an option is likely to be an excellent option.

Social Media

You have likely seen friends and family post on social media looking for recommendations on everything from a good mechanic to the best neighborhood park to where to find bottled water when bad weather is approaching. You may even have posted such requests yourself. You can do the same when looking for a personal injury attorney.

However, you should use caution when asking for these recommendations. Investigators, insurance companies, and lawyers are skilled at finding things you post online, and your social media posts could be used against you in court. If you ask for recommendations online, limit your request to asking for recommendations without offering the reason why. If someone asks and you wish to tell them why you need an attorney, you can tell them privately offline. This helps to avoid giving the other party anything they can use to attempt to discredit or reduce your claim.

Online Local Networking Apps

From networking apps like Angi’s or Yelp to neighborhood apps where you can ask people who live nearby for recommendations, there are many online networking apps that can offer recommendations for knowledgeable attorneys. For example, when asking on social media, limit your request to what kind of lawyer you are seeking, and do not share details about your accident or injury.

You will also want to use some caution when using these sites. While you can get good recommendations, there are paid advertisements on many of these sites. Be alert to indications that what looks like a real recommendation may actually just be a paid advertisement.

Online Legal Directories

From the state bar association to other authoritative sites, there are a number of legal directories that list lawyers in every area of the law. You can find state directories as well as more local directories. Some will allow you to filter the results you get based on location, specialty, size of the firm, and other factors.

Remember that regardless of where you get a lawyer’s name, it is always a good idea to do your own research. You are not looking just to confirm that they are experienced and good at what they do. You will also want to meet with them to decide if you like their personality and feel comfortable trusting them to handle your case.

Our Team Is Committed to Providing Exceptional Legal Representation Without the Pressure

In our personal injury practice at Cohen & Riechelson, we take pride in knowing that we do not have to chase clients. We fight tirelessly to get our clients the compensation they deserve, and our record speaks for itself. We stay on top of the law and any changes in it so that we can provide the most updated information to our clients in Princeton, Robbinsville, Ewing, Lawrence, East Windsor, Lambertville, and throughout Mercer, Burlington, and Middlesex County.

We will never make a promise we cannot keep and will always go over all of your legal rights and options so you can make an informed, educated decision about the next steps you wish to take. The decisions are yours; we are merely here to guide you and assist you in recovering the compensation you are entitled to. Contact our office today at 609-528-2596 to schedule a free consultation and discuss your motorcycle, motor vehicle, slip and fall, boating, truck, airport, or any other type of accident case.