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The image of lawyers as ambulance chasers is as old, and as pervasive, as the idea of lawyers as sharks. In fact, referring to attorneys as ambulance chasers is so common it's not surprising that some people might think lawyers are literally chasing ambulances, looking for their next client.
The short answer is no -- lawyers aren't running after ambulances. And here's why:
First and foremost, there are strict rules about how lawyers can contact potential clients and chasing ambulances to a potential client's hospital bed is not allowed. The American Bar Association's Model Rules for Professional Conduct govern the direct contact with prospective clients:
A lawyer shall not by in-person, live telephone or real-time electronic contact solicit professional employment when a significant motive for the lawyer's doing so is the lawyer's pecuniary gain, unless the person contacted:
(1) is a lawyer; or
(2) has a family, close personal, or prior professional relationship with the lawyer.
So unless a lawyer already knows that person in the ambulance, he or she can't directly solicit their business.
Personal Injury Law
The so-called ambulance chaser is, as the story goes, trying to secure a client for a personal injury lawsuit. And part of the ambulance chaser myth is that the injured party doesn't have a case or wouldn't sue but for the lawyer chasing him down. But this is false on two fronts.
First, the percentage of attorneys that practice personal injury law is fairly small compared to all other areas of legal practice. Second, it may not be the most lucrative area of law. Many injury cases are taken on a contingency fee basis, meaning the attorney's paycheck is contingent on the client winning their case. In addition, many states cap the amount of damages personal injury plaintiffs or their attorneys can win.
And again, there are ethical limitations to personal injury cases -- attorneys are prohibited from bringing frivolous claims. So lawyers aren't going to chase your ambulance and harass you to be a client. If you've been injured, you'll need to contact an experienced personal injury attorney on your own.