'Ambulance chasing' on the rise in Texas, says watchdog group

Marilyn Tennissen Sep. 29, 2009, 7:00am

HOUSTON – Unscrupulous ambulance chasing tactics by personal injury lawyers are on the rise in Texas, says a state legal watchdog group.

According to a press release from Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse, some parts of the state in particular are facing a resurgence in the illegal practice of barratry, commonly known as "ambulance chasing."

"Unfortunately, the Valley is again playing a starring role in abusive litigation," said Bill Summers, founder and president of the Rio Grande Valley Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse. "We've been called out as an area where barratry is 'flourishing.' It's another tactic of aggressive personal injury lawyers and anyone approached in this offensive manner should report it to the State Bar of Texas."

Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse (CALA) groups launched a statewide campaign to educate Texans about barratry, inform Texans of their rights, how to report illegal lawsuit solicitations and urge lawmakers to crack down on unscrupulous personal injury lawyers.

"Ambulance chasing is on the rise in some parts of Texas," said Clay McPhail, chairman of the board of CALA of Central Texas.

"Unfortunately, many victims may not know that it's illegal for a personal injury lawyer, or their representative, to approach them when they are at their most vulnerable. We want to raise awareness of this issue so people can recognize these abusive practices and report offenders."

The groups say there was a recent news report of a family being approached by a personal injury attorney at a funeral home and another that told of an accident victim approached in the hospital while he was heavily medicated.

"One family was even offered $25,000 to sign on with a particular firm," said Diane Davis of East Texans Against Lawsuit Abuse. "These and other stories show why ambulance chasing is just plain wrong and why it is a crime in Texas."

The San Antonio Express-News recently reported that barratry is "flourishing" in South Texas and that "warfare has broken out over barratry" in Corpus Christi. The paper reported that "lawyers are suing lawyers, seeking to overturn multimillion-dollar settlements of cases they claim were acquired improperly."

CALA groups across Texas are engaging in a television advertising campaign to highlight the problem of aggressive personal injury lawyers who prey on victims and promote junk lawsuits.

The ad is accompanied by print and online materials that urge consumers to "put the brakes on ambulance chasing."

To view the ad or online materials, please visit www.tala.com.

Chip Hough, chairman of the board of Bay Area Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse, said "Ambulance chasing is flourishing in parts of Texas with some personal injury lawyers and their cronies drumming up business by preying on accident victims – even if no one is to blame. Ambulance chasing is illegal in Texas for good cause: families have a right to privacy and to be free of harassment especially following an accident or injury."

"We are working to raise awareness that victims of accidents, or their families, need time to heal and grieve without being bombarded by personal injury lawyers looking to land a case," said Michelle Martin, Executive Director of CALA Houston. "We hope more consumers will report this practice if they are victims of barratry and hold the offending lawyers accountable."

CALA reports that efforts to bolster laws against illegal lawsuit solicitation were defeated during the 2009 legislative session. House Bill 148 would have allowed clients to collect triple damages from lawyers who engage in illegal case solicitation.

The proposal would have penalized lawyers who use "runners" to covertly solicit cases or to otherwise exploit the vulnerability of hospitalized accident victims and their families. However these provisions were stripped from the bill.

"Lawmakers should revisit stronger penalties against these aggressive and illegal solicitations," Hough said.

"In the meantime, Texans should know that current law prohibits lawyers, doctors and other professionals or their representatives from making direct or indirect solicitations of clients, including phone calls and visits. If someone sees barratry in action or falls victim to this practice personally, they should report it to the State Bar Chief Disciplinary Council."

To report barratry, contact the State Bar of Texas at 1-800-204-2222 ext. 9.

For more information please visit www.calahouston.org

Put the Brakes on Ambulance Chasing

At some of the most vulnerable times in life – following an accident or the death of a loved one – Texas law protects you from unwanted and overly-aggressive advances from personal injury lawyers trolling for new clients and lawsuits.

These aggressive tactics are called barratry – although they are more commonly known as "ambulance chasing" – and they are illegal.

Barratry – a felony offense in Texas – can take many forms:

  • Unsolicited calls or visits to your hospital room after an accident;

  • Unsolicited visits at the funeral home following the accidental death of a loved one;

  • Visits or calls to family members of someone who has suffered an accident or lost a loved one;

  • Cash offerings to sign on with a particular personal injury lawyer or law firm.

    Texans who receive unwanted solicitations from aggressive personal injury lawyers, or their representatives, should report the behavior to the State Bar of Texas: 1-800-204-2222 ext. 9.

    For more information or to report barratry, please visit Texans Against Lawsuit Abuse at www.tala.com.

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