Debunking the myth of the ambulance chaser

While it is common for certain professions to face stigmatization, which is often premised on unfounded stereotypes, nothing comes close to the unjustified stigma of being a personal injury lawyer.

personal injury attorney

The term “ambulance chaser” is often used to invoke the vivid image of a desperate, greedy, and heartless personal injury lawyer who follows the ambulance to the emergency room to solicit the patient who has been injured in a tragic event, such as a car accident. This stereotypical image dates back to the 19th century in England. It is very unfortunate that in modern times, this baseless reputation still haunts the practice of personal injury law. This blog post will address five misconceptions surrounding this stereotype.

Misconception #1: Personal injury lawyers chase ambulances

The very act of ambulance-chasing with the intent to solicit the victim for the provision of legal services is prohibited in the United States. The American Bar Association (ABA) created Model Rules of Professional Conduct. Model Rule 7.3 states that, “[a] lawyer shall not solicit professional employment by live person-to-person contact when a significant motive for the lawyer’s doing so is the lawyer’s or law firm’s pecuniary gain.”

ambulance workers wheeling in a patient

The ABA rules of conduct have been adopted by virtually every state. Under these rules of professional conduct, lawyers are forbidden from engaging in activities such as: soliciting patients who are in hospital beds and distributing business cards at the scene of a crash.

That said, this rule does not prohibit lawyers from informing members of the public about the services they provide. Lawyers, like other professionals, have free speech rights under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, and can market their services to members of the public. Truth be told, this informative marketing is helpful if not necessary for people seeking legal services to know which local firms in their community meet their legal needs.

Misconception #2: Filing a personal injury lawsuit makes you greedy

Many people feel that there are too many lawsuits in the United States. The perception by many is that the vast majority of these suits are initiated by greedy plaintiffs, with their greedy lawyers, seeking to make a quick buck. When certain people hear the phrase “personal injury,” they recall the famous McDonald’s hot coffee case that made national headlines. Some believe that many products now have too many labels and warnings because of all these suits motivated by greed.

making it rain

The truth of the matter is, very few people who are injured in a car accident, a store, or by a product, ever bring a claim for their injuries. According to the Rand Institute for Civil Justice, only 10% of injured people seek compensation, and only 2% of them ever file a lawsuit for their injuries. Less than 4% of lawsuits that are filed in courts are personal injury suits, according to the Center for Justice and Democracy at New York Law School.

The few people that decide to sue are often people who have sustained serious injuries through no fault of their own. People don’t want to have their medical history discussed in open court—which is what would happen at a personal injury trial—if they don’t have to. Litigation is often the last resort for seriously injured plaintiffs.

For many of these innocent victims, it is the only way to get their life back on track. Furthermore, any frivolous lawsuit would be dismissed by a judge and expose the lawyer to possible sanctions by the court and/or the state bar association. Thus, plaintiffs and lawyers are disincentivized to file frivolous lawsuits. This results in only sincere and honest lawsuits being filed by people who have sustained serious and sometimes catastrophic bodily injuries due to someone else’s negligence.

Misconception #3: Every claimant gets money

This is not true. As discussed above, just because someone has filed a lawsuit, doesn’t mean that their case will get tried in court, or that they will walk away with money for their injuries. Only legitimate cases, with legitimate injuries caused by someone else’s negligence will receive compensation.

Moreover, insurance companies defend themselves against these personal injury claims and lawsuits as if their lives depended on it. Their business model is to take in as much money as they can through premiums, and pay out as little as possible in compensation for losses and injuries.

Even when there is a legitimate claim, insurance companies and their lawyers will work around the clock in an attempt to ensure that plaintiffs receive as little compensation as possible for their injuries. Therefore, it is very important to hire a personal injury lawyer to fight for you and your case.

Allen & Allen attorneys

Misconception #4: Personal injury claimants hit the jackpot when they get paid

Multimillion-dollar verdicts and settlements frequently populate the news headlines. Most people think that the plaintiff in that lawsuit or settlement gets to walk away with that pot of money. What the news reports don’t mention is that only 4% of all plaintiffs are awarded $1 million or more.

According to the Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics, the median award is $31,000 and it has been decreasing over recent years. Moreover, that sum of money is divided amongst the plaintiff, fees and costs of litigation, paying medical doctors, specialists and experts, and sometimes even reimbursing your own health insurance company for the bills paid for your treatment.

Therefore, a personal injury claim is not a “get rich quick” scheme. A lot of work goes into resolving the case and the net settlement that goes to the plaintiff is often just enough to get them back on their feet.

Misconception # 5: Personal injury lawyers are very expensive

Finally, the myth goes that personal injury lawyers are very expensive. Some people even think that you must pay them upfront for them to take your case. This is not true.

In Virginia and most other states, virtually all personal injury lawyers take cases on a contingency fee arrangement. This means that generally you don’t have to pay your personal injury lawyer until your case is resolved.

Typically, the contingency fee is set as a percentage of your gross recovery (e.g., 33.33%). This means that your personal injury lawyer only gets paid if they make a recovery on your behalf. Therefore, your interest and those of your lawyer will always be aligned in a personal injury case. For more information on how to choose a personal injury law firm, click here.