Proposed NJ bill looks at ‘ambulance chaser’ solicitations

We’ve long characterized the nature of contrived estate disputes as barratry – the practice of creating legal business by stirring up disputes or quarrels to the benefit of involved attorneys – though the term is most commonly used in conjunction with personal injury actions.

With that, we found this article about a bill currently in front of the New Jersey legislature of interest:

TRENTON — State lawmakers want to give accident victims a head start over ambulance chasers with a bill that would punish lawyers and other professionals who write to them within 30 days of an accident.

The measure (A4430) was approved 6-0 by the Assembly Judiciary Committee today and is expected to be taken up by the full Senate and Assembly on Monday.

Currently, lawyers, doctors, chiropractors and other health care workers are barred from soliciting victims in person, by phone or online for 30 days — although the bill’s sponsors say the law is largely unenforced, if at all.

The measure approved in committee today would expand that to include written solicitations and apply to any type of licensed professional.

“This is bringing in written communication, which can be quite onerous for the accident victims,” said Assemblyman Troy Singleton (D-Burlington), a sponsor, who added that he would like to see the law enforced.

Some questioned the bill’s constitutionality on the ground that the state Supreme Court regulates how lawyers advertise.

Todd Sidor, a lobbyist for the State Bar Association, said state Supreme Court has jurisdiction over how lawyers practice, including advertising.

But the New Jersey Association for Justice, which represents trial lawyers, said it supported the measure.

In fact, three of the bill’s sponsors — State Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D-Union), Assemblyman Jon Bramnick (R-Union) and Assemblyman Peter Barnes (D-Middlesex) — practice personal injury law.

Scutari said writing to victims immediately after a disaster or accident “gives the profession a bad name.”

He said the bill also targets insurance agents “trying to run in there and get a quick settlement.” However, it does not apply to people who have been contacted by victims, or to lawyers who already have a relationship with them.

Under the terms of the bill, violating the measure would be considered a third-degree crime, punishable by up to five years in prison and a $15,000 fine.

Assemblyman Michael Patrick Carroll (R-Morris) approved the measure, although he suggested amending it to remove the criminal penalties and instead make an infraction of the law an ethics violation.

“I’m not persuaded that criminalizing speech is the way to go,” he said. “I reserve the right to vote against it on the floor.”

Attribution:

Under new N.J. bill, personal injury lawyers would have to wait 30 days before contacting accident victims
Matt Friedman
January 9, 2012
NJ.com
http://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2012/01/under_new_bill_ambulance_chase.html

Barratry is generally viewed as a less-than-ethical means by which to engage clients.  It is one more example of legal industry protectionist practices that usually serve to undermine the interests of legal consumers.  That said, while potentially having merit, this bill receiving support from a pro-trial lawyers organization firmly plants it in the “one to watch with caution” category.

The criminal penalties aspect sounds good, but claimed non-enforcement of current laws doesn’t incite confidence.  Maybe, though, that’s why the legal industry supports it….  Maybe.

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