• Chasing the ambulance chasers

    Ambulance Chasing ThrivesWe’ve all heard of ambulance-chasing lawyers who prey on vulnerable accident victims to get their business.

    But how exactly do these lawyers get around anti-barratry laws? Who’s doing it? And who gets hurt?

    Investigative reporter John MacCormack wrote an intriguing story that dives into the shady world of ambulance chasing. He names names and explains how lawyers team up with chiropractors to drum up business. The story is rich with interesting details about how the scam works:

    Despite an ongoing legal battle by San Antonio to limit access to accident information, each morning, customers show up regularly at the police station to buy reports that allow them to identify accident victims.

    Among the 14 regular customers are national insurance and data base companies, and others, including Melgarejo’s company, S.A. Medical Consultants, for whom the information means quick cash.

    Until late August, copies of police reports reprinted on red paper were being sold each morning out of a downtown print shop to telemarketers and case runners. The sales on Martin Street ended after the new law took effect Sept. 1.

    San Antonio telemarketers use various ruses to gain the confidence of wreck victims, claiming to represent insurance companies, LULAC and even the United Way. Others come knocking on front doors with beer, barbecue and H-E-B gift certificates in hand.

    To learn how the scam works, John told me he mostly relied on a court case involving one of the apparent victims, and by talking to chiropractors who view the practice as a blemish on their profession:

    Some chiropractors resist the temptation to work with solicitors and telemarketers, and also refuse to buy wreck information, among them Mark Miller, owner of Miller Chiropractic and Rehab in San Antonio.

    “I’ve been approached by at least three law firms in recent years, offering their people to work with, their solicitors,” he said.

    “The way it works is the doctor pays the solicitor, the lawyer signs people up, and the lawyer pays a referral fee to the doctor of up to $500 or $600. They called it ‘an upfront payment toward future medical bills’ and it protects the lawyer from any issues,” he said.

    Miller said he passed, even though it would have increased his business volume.

    “It’s not illegal. It’s unethical. And I don’t want to be involved with a patient coming to me based on what some solicitor says. You can’t control that,” he said.

    The article is a shining example of what happens when a journalist starts poking around a complicated topic, learns what makes it tick, and shares what he learned with readers. It’s what makes journalism so fascinating.

    “This is why I love it,” John said.