Ambulance Chasing Lawyers At Work In SA
Brian Mylar, KSAT 12 News Reporter
SAN ANTONIO — San Antonio is a hotbed for ambulance-chasing by lawyers who are finding ways to get around laws forbidding it.
After a car wreck this year, then 66-year-old Altagracia Mena said she got a phone call.
“‘This is such-and-such from the doctor’s office,'” Mena said, detailing what was said during the call. “And she said, ‘We happen to have an opening today.'”
Mena said she agreed to go to the appointment but added that she did not have a car because it was damaged in the wreck. She said the doctor’s office sent a van to pick her up.
But neither the doctor nor the van were arranged by her insurance or the other driver’s insurance company.
Most likely, people hoping to profit from her pain got her number from a police report.
It is legal for doctors to call victims, but it is illegal for lawyers to solicit victims directly.
“It is very illegal, it is a felony,” said Bill Edwards, a Corpus Christi attorney who is fighting against ambulance-chasing lawyers.
Edwards said the small portion of lawyers who do this makes the rest of the members of his profession look bad in the public eye. He said some lawyers have successfully found a way to get around the rules banning ambulance-chasing lawyers and that clients who sign up with them are not well represented.
“It hurts people (who) are like a piece of meat in the meat market,” Edwards said.
Other groups are also fighting to stop ambulance-chasing lawyers, such as Texans For Lawsuit Reform, whose Sherry Sylvester said accident victims are being taken advantage of.
“They do not get adequate compensation for their injuries or their economic loss,” Sylvester said.
Lawyers already have billboards targeting accident victims. There are phone book ads and ads on the Internet. That kind of advertising is perfectly legal, but a lawyer calling, visiting or soliciting directly is not. It is called barratry and it is hard to prosecute.
In the van on the way to the doctor’s office, Mena said the driver named two local law firms. But Mena said she knew something was not right in that scenario and eventually left the doctor’s care and got other help.
Meanwhile, accident victim P.J. Freeman said he was called to a downtown clinic after an accident and was also examined.
“As soon as that was over with, in comes the lawyer,” Freeman said. “They promised that everything was going to be taken care of, that we had nothing to worry about.”
He said he too went someplace else.
It is hard to file criminal charges against ambulance-chasing lawyers, but the state Legislature next year could vote to allow victims to file civil suits. There is also a plan to let the Texas Supreme Court discipline attorneys.
The best advice for accident victims is to avoid those phone calls that come in after an accident and to seek legal counsel elsewhere if needed.