Bills would stop attorney solicitation

By Gary Gosselin

Dolan Media Newswires

Two bills that would prohibit companies from accessing accident reports and prevent "attorney solicitation" of accident victims for 30 days should move quickly through the House of Representatives.

House Bills 4770 and 4771 were discussed in the House Judiciary Committee June 13, and are expected to be voted to the full House at the June 20 meeting.

HB 4770 and HB 4771 were introduced by Rep. Ellen Cogen Lipton, D-Huntington Woods, and Rep. Joseph Graves, R-Argentine Township, respectively.

Another bill, HB 4772, was sponsored by state Rep. Kevin Cotter, R-Mount Pleasant, and establishes violation of the new standards as a felony.

"This bill [HB 4770] is really intended to deal with access to information," said Lipton, who is an attorney. "You want people who need access to [accident] reports, media or attorney or family, but there does seem to be a business developing where people are downloading large amounts of data.

"They don't even have to go to the police department; they just do data dumps and sell the information to third parties," she added.

The bills faced no opposition in the Judiciary Committee meeting June 13. They are expected to be passed out of the committee to the full House June 20.

Graves recounted the story of the mother of an accident victim returning home after visiting her daughter in the hospital a couple days after the accident and finding her mailbox full of solicitations for medical and attorney services. There also were a couple of messages on the voicemail.

"We also have a constituent who is an attorney who brought it to our attention, and as we did more research we saw that it is an issue, and the more people got involved and more people agreed," Graves said.

"There are these 'advocacy organizations,' they call and say, 'We know a great attorney,' and a lot of times these groups are attorneys and medical clinics working together and everything is within the guidelines of the law, but a majority of attorneys see this as unethical," he explained. "These bills would give victims [time] to get through that initial shock and recover, at least some."

Farmington Hills attorney Steven M. Gursten has been advocating for such legislation for some time, because he says it harms the profession and is fueling fraudulent behavior in some cases.

"If you know someone and they were in a car accident and they say they got letters, and they tell all their friends, that really cements the image as ambulance-chasing lawyers," he said. "It does so much damage to our profession and our reputation, it's so demeaning."

Gursten said there is a growing cottage industry where medical providers and some few lawyers get together and form an entity that uses the police reports to solicit victims and steer them to treatment and representation.

Some of that results in fraud through overbilling and needless or excessive medical treatment, he said.

Most states already have laws in place, Gursten said, saying he thinks it's time to correct the problem.

Published: Thu, Jun 20, 2013