Origins of the Ambulance Chaser
Why are personal injury lawyers called “ambulance chasers”?It all started with some very aggressive marketing tactics used by personal injury lawyers back in the late 1890’s.
There would be an accident, usually somewhere in a big city. Since it was the 1890’s, we’re not talking about motor vehicle accidents, so it would have involved other kinds of accidents. Maybe someone gets run over by a horse. Maybe someone gets punched in the nose. Maybe a piano falls out of the window of a tall building and lands on someone.
Rather than wait for the injured victim or their family to make contact, some personal injury lawyers would make the first move. The lawyers would pay to have “agents” around the city who were tasked with being on the lookout for accidents. If an accident happened, these agents would find it, show up, and begin acosting the victim to hire the lawyer.
If the lawyer’s agents weren’t quite fast enough to make it to the accident scene before the victim was taken away in an ambulance, the agent would track the ambulance back to the hospital where it went. Again, we’re talking about horse-drawn ambulances back then. The agent would go inside the hospital, find the accident victim, and bug them to sign up with the lawyer.
The other ingenious tactic these lawyers would use is to have contacts inside the hospitals, such as the emergency doctors and nurses, that would notify the lawyer of the arrival of accident victims at the hospital. The medical personnel would also allow lawyers or their agents to visit the patients and make their sales pitch.
The above marketing tactics ultimately led to personal injury lawyers being called “ambulance chasers.”
The First Known Reference to Ambulance Chasers
The first known reference to lawyers being chastised as “ambulance chasers” appears to be an article from August 5, 1897 in the New York Sun. The article was highly critical of the above marketing tactics and predicted that bar associations would crack down on the practice.
What Do the Ethical Rules Say About Ambulance Chasing?
Over time, bar associations did in fact prohibit these tactics. Current lawyer ethical rules prohibit ambulance chasing. But instead of calling it ambulance chasing, the State Bar of California calls it “solicitation.” Rule of Professional Conduct 7.3, called “Solicitation of Clients,” prohibits lawyers from making contact in-person, by phone, or electronic means with someone to solicit professional employment for pecuniary gains. There are exceptions, such as contacting someone who is a lawyer or has a family, close personal, or prior professional relationship with the lawyer. So, ambulance chasing is frowned upon by the State Bar of California and it constitutes an ethical violation for lawyers.
It’s All in Good Fun
Some personal injury lawyers get offended if you call them ambulance chasers. Personally, I don’t care if someone calls me an ambulance chaser. I think it’s pretty funny.
Feel free to call Suits Litigation, Inc. at (408) 637-5413 if you were injured in an accident. We won’t chase your ambulance. We’ll wait until you call us.