How to Avoid Ambulance Chasers and Hire an Ethical Attorney

Without knowing it, you may have encountered what’s known in the legal world as ambulance chasers. Learn more about these unethical lawyers.

Hiring an attorney is never easy. In most cases, you will have several potential lawyers happy to represent you. Before you pick one, it’s important to consider several factors.

You want your attorney to have experience in your type of case, to be an effective advocate, and to be ethical.

For personal injury victims, the process of picking a law firm can be daunting. If you are in the hospital or have expensive medical bills, it can be tough to know who to trust.

Unfortunately, there are unethical attorneys who take advantage of vulnerable injured people. They’re called ambulance chasers. They and their paid helpers (known as “case runners” or “cappers”) target exhausted and confused accident victims.

The injured person then has little time to think about it before they’re pushed through a process that may not be in their best interest.

Often, ambulance chasers run a volume business in which they seek to represent as many clients as possible. They then settle those cases with as little work as possible to make a quick buck and move on to the next case.

Ambulance chasers don’t want to understand the nuances of your medical care or the details of your injury. They’re definitely not focused on getting the best compensation for you.

This article will look at the legality and professional ethics of ambulance chasing. We’ll also discuss what ambulance chasers look like, how they operate, and what to do if you find one.

Laws and Rules to Stop Ambulance Chasers

man handing a form to sign to an elderly man

The work of an attorney is heavily regulated. Each state has its own bar organization or similar entity. These entities license lawyers and make sure that they’re behaving in an ethical manner.

State bar organizations, in conjunction with the American Bar Association, also make Model Rules of Professional Conduct for lawyer advertising and soliciting of clients.

1. What Are Lawyers Not Allowed to Do?

Lawyers are subject to strict rules about how they talk to members of the public. This encompasses mailings, personal solicitations, and print and TV ads.

Lawyers are generally prevented from doing these things:

  • Promising certain results (e.g., “We can get you a $10,000 settlement in one month!”)
  • Stating that they are specialists (like in personal injury law) without proper certification
  • Pay non-lawyers for getting them new clients (except in limited cases)
  • Solicit clients from person-to-person contact (except in limited cases)

Of course, there are many more rules and laws applying to lawyers. But these specific rules help explain what ambulance chasers are. They also show why their behavior is unacceptable.

2. How Ambulance Chasers Break the Rules

woman showing a man where to sign

Ambulance chasers break the ethical rules in several ways. Chief among these is direct solicitation of clients.

The term “ambulance chaser” comes from the idea of a lawyer following an ambulance to the hospital. The lawyer then sneaks past hospital staff and promises a big cash reward from a lawsuit.

The reality is less cartoonish, but it follows this pattern.

Rather than going to a hospital themselves, the lawyer has a capper. Cappers often call themselves “investigators.” The capper gets information about accidents from a police scanner or similar source. The capper then goes to the injured person in the hospital and engages in a “free case evaluation,” which is just a pitch for a lawyer.

The capper’s pitch may include a representation that the lawyer handles cases like the injured person’s. It may also include a typical settlement amount and time frame for getting the money. It probably would not include a specific evaluation or discussion of the actual injuries or medical records of the injured person.

The capper would likely put pressure on the injured person to sign a fee agreement as soon as possible. The capper may also suggest that the injured person see a particular doctor. (That doctor often works with the lawyer on many cases.)

After the injured person signs the fee agreement, the lawyer pays a referral fee to the capper and the doctor.

3. How Ambulance Chasers Can Hurt Your Case

An attorney is a fiduciary, meaning that they must act in your best interest over their own. Getting mixed up with an ambulance chaser puts you at the mercy of an unethical person prioritizing their own monetary gain over your health and financial well-being.

An attorney focused on their own bottom line may also persuade you to settle your case without full compensation. For example, let’s say that you’re in a car accident and suffer a mild traumatic brain injury. The ambulance chaser determines that your case is not the kind that he typically handles.

Though your injury may be worth a $100,000 settlement, your case has complicated facts and may go to trial. Because your case requires more time and resources than they expected, the unethical lawyer wants to take the easy way out.

The lawyer persuades you to accept a settlement of $10,000. This amount is what the attorney usually settles cases for. They just want the contingency fee so they can move to the next case. You, on the other hand, have lost 90% of the value of your claim due to the lawyer’s unethical business practices.

Besides the loss of monetary compensation, keep in mind that a bad settlement will also leave your health unprotected. Any good personal injury settlement should take into account future medical treatment. Getting less than you should can have an impact on your health for the rest of your life.

How to Protect Yourself from Ambulance Chasers

California State Capitol building

Ambulance chasers and their associates are predatory and dangerous, but fortunately, you do have tools to stop them. The most simple of these tools is time.

Much like buying a house or car, hiring an attorney is never a decision you should make in a hurry. Anybody who tries to get you to make a snap decision is not acting in your best interest.

Any worthwhile attorney will respect you for taking the time to carefully look through their fee agreement and ask specific questions before making a decision.

There are other powerful tools you can use to gauge whether an attorney is professional and ethical.

Research Your Lawyer

Lawyers all over the country trust the Martindale directory for fast, accurate evaluations of a lawyer’s professional skills and ethics. Martindale rates attorneys based on personal reviews from attorneys, judges, and clients those lawyers have worked with. Particularly skilled attorneys will also be ranked as AV (Preeminent), Distinguished or Notable.

Another excellent resource for attorney research is your state’s bar organization. In California, for example, the state bar website allows you to search for and pull up a profile on any licensed attorney. In that profile, you can see how long the attorney has practiced, their standing with the bar, and whether they have been professionally disciplined.

Fire Them or File a Complaint

Sometimes, you can do all your research and still have a bad experience with a lawyer. If that happens, you still have options.

First, if you find yourself in a bad attorney-client relationship, remember that you can always “fire” your lawyer and get a new one. You will have to check the fee agreement for the correct way to do this. There may also be some cost associated with changing your attorney.

Also, don’t forget that you can still go to the state bar and file a complaint against your attorney. If your attorney has mishandled your case badly enough, you may also want to consider a lawsuit for legal malpractice or breach of fiduciary duty. In that case, contact a qualified malpractice attorney for a free consultation and case evaluation.

Avoid and Stop Predatory Lawyers

Because of the immense power they can wield over our lives, attorneys must be held to high ethical and legal standards. You have many resources to help you check personal injury lawyers. It’s important that you take enough time to use them before entering into a fee agreement or worse, a bad settlement agreement.

If you believe you’ve encountered an ambulance chaser attorney, don’t engage with them. If you or a loved one has suffered a physical or financial injury as a result of an ambulance chaser’s unethical practices, talk to your state bar as soon as possible for resources and information about what to do next.

Matthew Carter, Esq. has been a licensed attorney since 2004. He’s admitted to practice law in California and Nevada, where he was awarded the rating of AV – Preeminent. Matthew has successfully handled a variety of personal injury and wrongful death cases, as well as trials, appeals, and evidentiary hearings throughout state and federal... Read More >>