Over the past several years, virtually anyone involved in a Michigan auto accident(the negligent and the innocent, the injured and the non-injured alike), would receive countless cold calls, mailers and home visits from assorted medical and legal types (and/or their surrogates). There would be offers of medical treatment, legal representation, insurance information, transportation services, cash advances, and more. Some calls even resulted in "pay to treat" arrangements. The calls would often begin the very day of the accident.
Callers often presented themselves as representatives of the injured person's insurance company, the other driver's insurance company, a state program designed to explain the Michigan No-Fault system, etc.
Contact information was often obtained from city and county auto accident reports that could be obtained on-line mere hours after the accident.
Injured people were directed to specific medical practitioners and, what a shock, there was often a lawyer ready to meet the crash victim at his first medical appointment.
A couple of years ago, I was serving as a Case Evaluator in Wayne County. One case involved a claim for unpaid No-Fault benefits. The plaintiff had testified at her deposition that her first medical treatment came after a phone call wherein she was informed that she would be picked up on the following day and taken for an MRI. The prescription for the test had been written by a retired Chiropractor who had never seen the injured woman. Shortly thereafter a "Case Manager" mysteriously appeared. The No Fault insurer certainly didn't hire her, and the plaintiff's lawyer could not (or would not) tell us who hired her, or who she reported to. The Case Manager's bill came to over $15,000.
Our evaluation (which is designed to help settle cases), came in at less than 10 percent of the accumulated medical bills and management charges.
Well, our legislators in Lansing finally did get a bit fed up with solicited claims, which often became grossly orchestrated claims. They passed MCL 750.410(b) which became effective on January 1, 2014. The new statute provides, in part:
750.410b Contact with individual or family member sustaining personal injury as result of motor vehicle accident; prohibition; exceptions; definitions; violation as misdemeanor; costs.
(1) A person shall not intentionally contact any individual that the person knows has sustained a personal injury as a direct result of a motor vehicle accident, or an immediate family member of that individual, with a direct solicitation to provide a service until the expiration of 30 days after the date of that motor vehicle accident
Penalties were provided for violation, as follows:
(3) A person who violates this section is guilty of a misdemeanor punishable as follows:
(a) Except as provided in subsection (b), by a fine of not more than $30,000.00.
(b) For a second or subsequent violation of this section, by imprisonment for not more than 1 year or a fine of not more than $60,000.00, or both.
Nice idea. So, since January 1, 2014, auto accident victims get a 30 break from solicitation, right? Wrong. Solicitation has proceeded, virtually unabated, since the enactment of the new law.
I started paying real attention to this when our office receptionist was involved in an auto accident in February of 2015. Her injuries required her to miss 4 days of work. When she returned the Monday following her Tuesday accident, I asked, half jokingly, if she had received any solicitations. (I did first ask how she was feeling, by the way). I was surprised to learn that she had received multiple phone calls within 3 days of the accident. Callers offered to send her to doctors. When she asked on caller where he was calling from, he answered "your insurance company". She did not think to ask the caller the name of "her" insurance company. By the way, he was not calling from her insurance company.
I asked her to pull the numbers from her caller ID. Big surprise. The numbers showed up as restricted or came across as a series of symbols, like #s.
Thereafter, I made a practice of asking every auto accident victim who called our office, if he/she had received solicitations after the accident. With only one exception, every auto accident victim had received multiple solicitation calls, often as early as the day of the accident. In no case did the calls begin later than 3 days post-accident.
The callers made many offers:
- Medical treatment and referrals
- Transportation Services
- Referral to legal services
- Explanation of the No-Fault Act
My favorite was the call that purported to be from the other driver's insurance company. The negligent driver's insurance company was going to refer the poor victim to specific doctors, just to make sure she (in that case) got the treatment she needed. Noble company. The scenario described never happens in the real world.
So, I have become convinced that the new law isn't working. I am sure some of the biggest solicitors made a public show of support laws to cut down on abuses, while continuing previous practices.
In that regard, I'd like to relate a little story. Our firm was recently hired to represent an accident victim who had previously been a client of one of the huge advertisers. At the client's deposition, he testified that he was solicited the day after the accident, personally, by said big advertiser, who directed him to all of his medical treaters. In the subsequent litigation, four of those treaters intervened in the case. Based on his testimony, the No-Fault insurance company filed a motion (poorly written, in my opinion) asking that the entire claim be dismissed as a product of solicitation and fraud. The motion was granted. The intervening parties are taking the lead in appealing the decision.
In an ironic twist, the attorney (the big advertiser) who the court held had solicited the case, trumpets on the firm's website how auto accident victims need to be protected from ambulance chasers (case citation and web link available on request).
I have heard of no prosecutions, much less convictions under the new statute.
So, I have decided to take matters into my own hands. Firstly, on May 20, 2015 I wrote to the head prosecutors of Wayne, Oakland and Macomb Counties asking for data as to prosecutions under the new statute. If I get any responses, I would be surprised if there has been anyone charged.
If that is the case, I will move to the next step in the program. That step I may need to clear with the State Bar of Michigan first.