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Barratry, Solicitation and More: The Harassment of Accident Victims

ambulanceThe image that 90% of the population has of those of us that are personal injury lawyers is of some greedy jerk using deception or illegal tactics to pursue claims. For most of my brethren, that caricature couldn’t be further from the truth. But for some attorneys, it’s accurate, and it couldn’t be more disgusting.

Earlier this week, the San Antonio Express News ran an article detailing the problem of barratry or case solicitation. As it stands, barratry is illegal. Texas attorneys are not allowed to solicit clients in person or by phone, and an attorney can’t solicit by mail until thirty-one days after the date of the accident or wreck. Tex. Penal Code § 38.12. But it happens over and over, and we need to do what we can to stop it.

But the harassment of victims doesn’t stop at lawyers. Another problem is chiropractors soliciting car wreck victims and then referring the victims to their selected attorneys. We’ve previously written on a WOAI undercover operation to bust attorneys trying this stunt. That scheme is also illegal, but it too continues.

It’s about time that we did something about it. Lawmakers need to step in, attorneys need to step in by reporting suspected cases of barratry, and injured persons that are solicited need to report their own experiences. Maybe then, we can do something about this horrible practice. (Let me add that the article hints that the Texas Trial Lawyers Association may be against the bill. I’m proud to be an active member of TTLA — one of the only organizations over at the capital trying to protect individuals’ rights. And I’ve spent time over at the capital this session on behalf of TTLA. I would be shocked if TTLA opposed this bill. In fact, the article even notes that TTLA is supporting a bill that would increase the penalties assessed against an attorney for not reporting barratry. It makes no sense to support one and not the other.)

But the harassment comes from the other side as well. A recurring problem in some litigation is a “swoop and settle” tactic employed by insurance companies who come in and settle claims early before the injured persons know the true extent of their injuries and the nature of their rights. And in many cases, the insurance company officials not only don’t explain the nature of the settlements, but they make out-right misrepresentations about the injured person’s ability to bring future claims. These problems are equally as bad as attorney solicitation. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be any movement at all to try and remedy those problems. My only advice is to make sure you know your rights before you settle. While some settlement agreements may be set aside for fraud or other claims, pursuing the suit and the claim becomes much more difficult all the way around once the client signs an early settlement “agreement.”

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