Ambulance Chasing Lawsuits : Litigation, Extortion and Lawyer Complaints
Author: Emma Johnson
Published: 2013-12-28 : (Rev. 2019-11-16)
Synopsis and Key Points:
Article looks at frivolous ambulance chasing lawsuits including how and where to report unethical lawyer conduct.
In common law, barratry is the offense committed by people who are "overly officious in instigating or encouraging prosecution of groundless litigation" or who bring "repeated or persistent acts of litigation" for the purposes of profit or harassment.
An attempt to obtain money from someone else by threatening to expose them or report them to the authorities arguably constitutes embezzlement or blackmail.
What is an Ambulance Chaser?
The English idiom ambulance chaser refers to someone, most often a lawyer, who attempts to profit from an injured person's accident by trying to convince that person to sue. Ambulance chasing is prohibited in the United States and Australia. In the U.S. such conduct violates the American Bar Association Model Rules of Professional Conduct. Some bar associations strongly enforce rules against ambulance chasing, also known as barratry.
TheFreeDictionary.com defines an ambulance chaser as an attorney who seeks to profit from someone's injury or accident; also, an inferior lawyer. The practice of suing for damages on behalf of the injured person in exchange for a contingency fee - usually a large percentage of the amount won - (https://idioms.thefreedictionary.com/ambulance+chasers)
Wikipedia defines ambulance chasing as a professional slur which refers to a lawyer soliciting for clients at a disaster site. The term "ambulance chasing" comes from the stereotype of lawyers that follow ambulances to the emergency room to find clients. The phrase ambulance chaser is also used more loosely as a derogatory term for a personal injury lawyer.
Image of a lawyer chasing an ambulance (Ambulance Chaser).
What is Barratry?
Barratry, as defined by Wikipedia, is a legal term with several meanings. In common law, barratry is the offense committed by people who are "overly officious in instigating or encouraging prosecution of groundless litigation" or who bring "repeated or persistent acts of litigation" for the purposes of profit or harassment.
Several jurisdictions in the United States have declared barratry (in the sense of a frivolous or harassing litigant) to be a crime as part of their tort reform efforts. For instance the Revised Code of Washington 9.12.010 states - according to Wikipedia; "Every person who brings on his or her own behalf, or instigates, incites, or encourages another to bring, any false suit at law or in equity in any court of this state, with intent thereby to distress or harass a defendant in the suit, or who serves or sends any paper or document purporting to be or resembling a judicial process, that is not, in fact, a judicial process, is guilty of a misdemeanor; and in case the person offending is an attorney, he or she may, in addition thereto be disbarred from practicing law within this state."
Attorneys who repeatedly take ridiculous cases with no legal merit can, and frequently do, get disbarred.
Contingent fee setups also offer a strong disincentive to accepting questionable cases, as the prospect of eating the cost of an unsuccessful case is something that gives most attorneys a very good reason to make a solid inquiry into the facts of the case before choosing to pursue it.... in several European countries which follow civil law jurisdiction rather than common law, this kind of practice is explicitly prohibited: one must not gain benefit from injury and/or compensations - (http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/AmbulanceChaser)
Silhouette of a lawyer with briefcase running - Is he chasing a lawsuit? Or running away from one...?
When Does A Demand Letter Become Extortion?
When the plaintiff attempts to threaten the defendant with some consequence beyond the mere pursuit of the lawsuit, like exposing them to embarrassment or criminal prosecution.
An attempt to obtain money from someone else by threatening to expose them or report them to the authorities arguably constitutes embezzlement or blackmail... The U.S. Model Rules of Professional Responsibility have a relevant rule, Rule 4.4 ("Respect for Rights of Third Persons"), which says: "in representing a client, a lawyer shall not use means that have no substantial purpose other than to embarrass, delay, or burden a third person..." - (https://www.litigationandtrial.com/2013/07/articles/attorney/demand-letter-extortion/)
How Can I File a Complaint Against a Lawyer?
If you have concerns about the ethical conduct of a lawyer, you can file a complaint and go after their license and reputation.
In the United States, each state has a different organization that reviews complaints against lawyers. In many states, a division of the courts handles these complaints. This is typically referred to as the disciplinary board. Some states rely on their state bar associations to discipline their attorneys - (http://hirealawyer.findlaw.com/choosing-the-right-lawyer/where-can-i-file-a-complaint-against-my-lawyer.html)
Other Related Resources
Rule 7.3: Direct Contact with Prospective Clients - Information About Legal Services - Rule 7.3 Solicitation of Clients.
A lawyer shall not by in-person, live telephone or real-time electronic contact solicit professional employment when a significant motive for the lawyer's doing so is the lawyer's pecuniary gain, unless the person contacted... ( https://www.americanbar.org/groups/professional_responsibility/publications/model_rules_of_professional_conduct/rule_7_3_direct_contact_with_prospective_clients.html)
As one legal blogger put it: Go ahead and file the suit tomorrow if that's in your client's best interest. But if I receive any more communication from your office beyond that this matter is dropped, I will sue your client and sue you personally for malicious prosecution" - (http://hustlebear.com/2010/12/14/how-to-handle-lawyers-threatening-you/)
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