By RICHARD MEEHAN
The Cool Justice Report
Oct. 14, 2009
EDITOR'S NOTE: This column is available for reprint courtesy of The Cool Justice Report, http://cooljustice.blogspot.com
Oct.1 marks the effective date of most new legislation in Connecticut. There is probably some sound reason somewhere in the annals of our legislature that explains why that date has been used. It may just be that they have to start sometime.
This fall the news centers on the anti-ambulance chasing bill, politely called "An Act Concerning Solicitation of Clients, Patients or Customers." Now, any individual who acts as a "runner", uses a runner or solicits, directs, hires or employs a runner can be arrested and charged with a Class A Misdemeanor, punishable up to one year in jail and fined up to $5,000. "Runners" are defined as procurers employed by lawyers or doctors to signup clients for insurance claims.
The law targets lawyers and health care providers, as well as the runners they employ. Lawyers have been the butt of jokes about ambulance chasing; most of it undeserved. While many personal injury lawyers are aggressive advertising their services, a seamy side to the profession has developed. Runners troll hospital corridors and respond to broadcasts over police scanners, preying on unsophisticated accident victims. Unscrupulous doctors have been known to use runners to dissuade the injured from seeking legitimate emergency care, and instead offering to treat accident victims in therapy mills, designed for profit -- not necessary medical needs.
Every ethical lawyer has heard stories about some unscrupulous member of the bar rumored to have some doctor in his hip pocket, churning out phony medical reports, inflating claims. Periodically, someone gets indicted for fraud.
We represented a young chiropractor whose boss was running a phony treatment mill, trading patients back and forth with a particular lawyer. Claims would be inflated and settled without the scrutiny of a trial. His boss and the lawyer were indicted and served time. One lawyer would actually pay the claimant in cash, in advance, then have the "client" sign a blank release form. The conspiratorial doctor would issue a phony report about treatment and the lawyer would settle the cases for a greater value than the cash paid out, pocketing the money.
In one instance where there were multiple deaths in a tragic accident, runners approached many of the victims families and signed them as clients before the bodies had all been recovered.
Accident victims were injured twice; once in the collision, and a second time by those they trusted to get them adequate compensation. The fallout from these practices also reinforced the view that many people hold of the tort system and plaintiffs' lawyers. We came to be viewed as greedy profiteers. Lost in that were the overwhelming majority of injury lawyers who truly care about their clients and work long hours to make sure that their clients' lives are rebuilt with the hard fought proceeds of their cases.
Because of this the bar has endorsed the new bill, welcoming it as a means to rid both the legal and medical profession of these parasites.
Accident victims are always better served by engaging competent counsel as early as possible. It is a battle to secure the right compensation for the injured.
Insurance companies aren't the beneficent and generous benefactors that little lizards and bright-eyed sales people gush about. Too many injured parties have nowhere to turn for immediate relief while the family provider is homebound, recuperating. False promises by runners of instant money too often led to these desperate people not only signing on, but settling their cases for far less value than that to which they were entitled, pressured by the unethical lawyer or doctor for the quick buck.
Bridgeport, CT attorney Richard Meehan Jr. was the lead defense counsel for former Bridgeport Mayor Joseph Ganim's corruption trial. Meehan is certified as a criminal trial specialist by the National Board of Trial Advocacy since 1994 and serves on the organizations Board of Examiners. He is a Charter Fellow, Litigation Counsel of America -- Trial Lawyer Honorary Society. Meehan has also obtained multi-million dollar verdicts and settlements in complex medical and dental malpractice and personal injury litigation. He is a past president of the Greater Bridgeport Bar Association and appears regularly on TruTv. His column also appears in the Sunday Norwich, CT Bulletin. Website, www.meehanlaw.com