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Could Legislation Help Prevent Illegal Solicitation of Personal Injury Victims?

We’re ambulance chasers — at least that’s what the public thinks.  Personal injury lawyers have a reputation for sitting around and trying to chase down injured people so we can represent them in cases.

And sadly, there’s some truth to that. 

There are a number of personal injury attorneys around the state that improperly obtain clients — either by acting themselves, using chiropractors, or using other “case runners” that contact the injured and direct them to attorneys.

But in reality, most of us oppose it and find it despicable.

In truth, Texas law and the disciplinary rules governing lawyers limit how attorneys can contact potential clients.  These are called barratry laws. But they lacked some teeth in their enforcement.  That may have changed.

Yesterday, the governor signed in a new law that adds additional penalties to the statutes limiting barratry.  Under the new statute, a lawyer who improperly solicits clients can be subject to fee forfeiture — that means that they could have to give back any fees they obtain from an improperly obtained case.  Additionally, any person that engages in barratry could be fined up to $10,000.00.  This is important because it might provide some deterrence to case runners.  Fee forfeiture is a good incentive against a lawyer, but it doesn’t do anything to dissuade case runners or chiropractors from acting improperly.  This new penalty might provide some deterrence.

There are a couple interesting things to watch with this law.  Obviously, the important thing to watch is whether it limits case running and barratry in the personal injury arena.  But a second, and perhaps more interesting question, is whether its enforcement will only be limited to the personal injury context.  While most of the anecdotal stories involve the personal injury arena, many big firms around the state use fancy monitoring software to watch and determine when potential clients are being sued.  In fact, there’s a fairly famous video where a plaintiff’s lawyer confronts Joe Nixon, a lawyer and former state legislator who was instrumental in passing tort reform litigation, for calling a potential client about hiring him  (unfortunately, the video doesn’t start until just after the alleged admission of barratry).

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