Duhaime's Law Dictionary


Ambulance Chaser Definition:

One who follows up cases of accident and tries to induce the injured party to bring suit for damages.

"A person, either a lawyer or the agent of a lawyer, who follows up cases of accident in the streets and tries to induce the injured party to bring suit for damages."

These were the words adopted by the Supreme Court of Michigan in the 1927 case, Kelley v Boyne. There, the court added:

""Ambulance-chaser ... is said to have originally been applied to the unseemly activities of overzealous undertakers in too promptly soliciting contracts in their line of business..."

In a 1916 case, the lawyer was disbarred for ambulance-chasing. The Supreme Court of New York described the case before it (In re Newell)  in the following terms:

"Learning of an accident, from which a negligence action might probably arise, through the newspapers or from any other source, (the attorney's agent)... would promptly proceed to the place of accident, interview the person injured, or in the case where death had ensued, the members of his family, present to them his view of the case, recommend the retaining of the respondent's law firm....

"(O)ne who solicits negligence cases for an attorney ... may properly be called an ambulance chaser.... Ambulance chasing has brought deserved discredit upon those engaged in it.... (I)t is a practice disgraceful for a member of the legal profession.... (I)t is also a practice which is unprofessional, and destructive of the honor of the profession and of the confidence of the community in the integrity and honor of its members....

"We think there never was a time in the history of the profession of the law when conduct such as that of the respondent was tolerable from any point of view.

In his 1964 book, Richmond, Virginia lawyer John may tells this amusing ambulance-chaser story:

"The court and jury were quietly listening to a little old woman describing an automobile accident in which she had been involved and upon which she was basing her suit for damages. Things were going along smoothly until her lawyer asked her, "And what next to you remember, Mrs. Green?" to which she replied, "The next thing I remember is you helping me out of the car."

REFERENCES:

  • In re Newell, 160 N.Y.S. 275 (1916)
  • Kelley v Boyne, 214 N.W. 316 (1927)
  • May, John G., Courtroom Kicktales (Charlottesville, Virginia: The Michie Company, Law Publishers, 1964), page 34.

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