Freelance ambulance-chasers in Washington D.C.
May 6, 2003 2:27 AM   Subscribe

Streets strewn with glass and gold. In the nation's capitol, freelance 'runners' dash from police station to police station, grabbing auto accident reports the moment they appear and phoning the victims, trying to convince them to file suit. If they succeed, "personal injury cases can be sold to a lawyer for $300 to $600, sometimes more if the victim broke some bones or died. Not bad money." Whatever you may think of the social policy wisdom of D.C. allowing this, this tiny subculture of high-energy hustlers living on the ragged fringe of law and mainstream ethics is colorful as hell, and would make a great context for a novel or film.
WaPo link. [via]
posted by Slithy_Tove (5 comments total)
It does sound like a perfect background for a Carl Haaisen novel.
posted by cowboy at 6:13 AM on May 6, 2003

I'm often in and out of the DC "Superior" Court building, it has got to be one of the most bizarre three ring circuses on the planet. I like to spend my vacation time in the mercados of rural Mexico and yet when I go to DC "Superior" (I just can't take that name seriously) I feel uncomfortable, suspicious and even a little dirty. Its not because of the accused, its because of the sharks, the sleazy greased up lawyers trolling for chum among the helpless and hopeless masses with one hand on their cell phone and the other handing out business cards. Recently I had the joy of petit jury duty, an open and shut petty theft case, the prosecutor nearly slept through it and the huckster defense attorney kept getting his cases mixed up and asking the witness the wrong questions, I felt genuinely sorry for the poor kid on trial, at least the judge was paying attention and doing his best Joe Brown impression. The best however is to climb to the top of the building and to look down off the balcony at the main lobby floor. If you've ever seen the movie Snake Pit, you can picture what it looks like.
posted by Pollomacho at 6:45 AM on May 6, 2003

They also listen to the emergency services scanners and rush right out to the accident sites to hand out business cards.
posted by scarabic at 8:41 AM on May 6, 2003

They're a defensive bunch. "I just hope people understand that we're not trying to make anybody sue each other," explains a pretty young runner, very carefully, one morning at the 2nd District station house. "We're just doing a job, trying to let people know their rights."

high-energy hustlers
They're salespeople that truly believe in their product to sell, law suits. Yet the article made them out to be like a pimp or a pusher on the street. Sounds like they have a right to do this. They may be taking advantage, but the advantage was given to them to sell when it happens over & over.
posted by thomcatspike at 8:52 AM on May 6, 2003

In Georgia, as in other states, they passed a law (see 4.1)a few years ago trying to alleviate this exact problem. At the time we all thought, Finally! But of course a law is only as good as it is enforced. At least 80%(a conservative figure since I'm working on being less cynical)of the so called injury cases I handle still involve "runners" talking people into being either injured or more injured than they actually might be due to an auto accident. How do I know? Because I bluntly ask people claiming injury if someone contacted them after the accident and almost all tell me numerous people contacted them after the accident representing not only lawyers but chiropractors. Most attorneys who pay runners for cases want to do minimum work for the greatest return so they don't handle the property damage portion part of the claim. Most of the time the "real" attorney never even sees the case. He has handlers in his office who do the dirty work telling the "injured" clients it's ok to handle that part of their claim with the insurance company directly. Not only is the client doing all the legwork but once money is paid to a claimant for the damage it secures the insurance company's position on liability which is the first legal obstacle to overcome in any auto accident. Then it's a easy money case with minimum effort for the attorney's office where they are making a minimum of $1000 per case on a contingency basis. They know the insurance companies will pay because the cost to defend against such cases certainly exceeds the cost to settle.
posted by oh posey at 4:24 PM on May 6, 2003

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