SHOULD A LAWYER CONTACT YOU AFTER A CAR ACCIDENT?
The short answer to this question is absoutely not. It is a violation of the Florida Rules of Professional Responsibility for a lawyer or lawyers representative to contact you after a car accident. I have heard from many accident victims that have told me that a lawyer called them at home, or at work, or on their cell phone right after their car accident. Often the caller is a person calling from an unidentified cell phone offering to connect them with a lawyer or legal services. This is known as solicitation and it is prohibited in Florida, as set forth in the Florida Rules of Professional Responsibility.
Here is the exact wording in the Florida Rules of Professional Responsibility that all lawyers must abide by:
Rule 4-7.4 Direct Contact with Prospective Clients
Except as provided in subdivision (b) of this rule, a lawyer shall not solicit professional employment from a prospective client with whom the lawyer has no family or prior professional relationship, in person or otherwise, when a significant motive for the lawyer's doing so is the lawyer's pecuniary gain. A lawyer shall not permit employees or agents of the lawyer to solicit in the lawyer's behalf. A lawyer shall not enter into an agreement for, charge, or collect a fee for professional employment obtained in violation of this rule. The term "solicit" includes contact in person, by telephone, telegraph, or facsimile, or by other communication directed to a specific recipient and includes (i) any written form of communication directed to a specific recipient and not meeting the requirements of subdivision (b) of this rule, and (ii) any electronic mail communication directed to a specific recipient and not meeting the requirements of subdivision (c) of rule 4-7.6.
A LAWYER MET ME AT THE HOSPITAL OR CLINIC
In addition, many clients have told me that they were approached by a representative from a lawyers office at the emergency room, or in the emergency room parking lot, or at a medical clinic. According to the above rule of conduct this type of contact by a lawyer or lawyers representative is strictly prohobited. Some unethical lawyers even tell clients that they must sign a contract with them before they can receive medical treatment at the clinic, or otherwise pressure injured accident victims to sign a contact for the lawyer to handle their case. This conduct is strictly illegal and should be reported to the Florida Bar.
I GOT MAIL FROM A LAWYER THE NEXT DAY
Another form of lawyer solicitation is direct mail. Many clients have reported to me that they received a letter from a lawyer the next day after their car accident. This type of contact is also prohibited by the rules of professional conduct. A lawyer must wait thirty (30) days before sending any direct mail to an auto accident victim. Here is the exact wording of the Florida Rule of Professional Conduct:
Rule 4-7.4 Direct Contact with Prospective Clients
b) Written Communication.
(1) A lawyer shall not send, or knowingly permit to be sent, on the lawyer's behalf or on behalf of the lawyer's firm or partner, an associate, or any other lawyer affiliated with the lawyer or the lawyer's firm, a written communication directly or indirectly to a prospective client for the purpose of obtaining professional employment if:
(A) the written communication concerns an action for personal injury or wrongful death or otherwise relates to an accident or disaster involving the person to whom the communication is addressed or a relative of that person, unless the accident or disaster occurred more than 30 days prior to the mailing of the communication;
Investigations by the Florida Department of Insurance, Division of Insurance Fraud, along with other Special Investigative Units of various insurance companies, are currently dealing with an abundance of fraud in Florida related to the solicitation of car accident victims.
Typically, there is a car accident report that is filled out and filed in correlation with each incident. There are individuals, known as "runners," who are contacting law enforcement agencies to obtain copies of all accident reports filed with each agency. Under Florida law, accident reports are public record, and therefore, law enforcement agencies fulfill the requests.
These "runners" are then using these reports to personally solicit accident victims or they give a list of victim’s names to a third party who will solicit the victims. These solicitations come in the form of persistent phone calls asking for personal information regarding the accident and even personal visits to the victim’s homes. These runners are sometimes leading victims to believe they work with their insurance company, referring them to doctors for treatment and/or lawyers for representation, while receiving monetary compensation for their services from the party they have referred the victim to. Some of these runners are even directly offering the victims money to visit a specific doctor, clinic or attorney.
As far as tracking phone numbers down for these runners to find out who they are… it is said that they are using pre-paid cell phones with temporary accounts that are registered with false contact information, making it difficult for anyone investigating these situations to trace anything back to the true account holder.
As you can imagine, this is a frustrating situation for everyone involved. The victims many times do not realize they are in the middle of something unethical and illegal, and they are completely misled. Honest and law-abiding attorneys and doctors are having potential clients essentially taken from them and directed to those who elect unethical practices as a means of fueling there businesses. More and more people are coming together to make people aware of these runners and the potential that exists that they will contact you or a loved one, following an accident.
SHOULD A LAWYER USE POLICE REPORTS TO CONTACT ACCIDENT VICTIMS?
The short answer to this question is absolutely not. Use of information on a police report for purposes of solicitation is illegal in Florida, as set forth in Florida Statutes. Here is the exact statute that prohibits such use of information contained in police reports.
PUBLIC OFFICERS, EMPLOYEES, AND RECORDS Chapter 119
119.105 Protection of victims of crimes or accidents.—Police reports are public records except as otherwise made exempt or confidential. Every person is allowed to examine nonexempt or nonconfidential police reports. A person who comes into possession of exempt or confidential information contained in police reports may not use that information for any commercial solicitation of the victims or relatives of the victims of the reported crimes or accidents and may not knowingly disclose such information to any third party for the purpose of such solicitation during the period of time that information remains exempt or confidential.
If you are solicited by a lawyer or someone working for a lawyer and you did not initiate the contact, you should immediately report that lawyer to the Florida Bar, and do not hire a lawyer that in their first contact with you is violating their own code of ethics and violating Florida Law. That is not the type of lawyer to hire.
For more information or for a free consultation, contact The Law Offices of Charles D. Scott, PLLC Injury and Family Law Attorneys, by calling 727-300-4878 or view our web site http://www.yourstpetelawyers.com