Attorneys are the guardians of the law. They are expected to maintain the highest standard of ethical conduct. Unfortunately, some attorneys forget that being a lawyer is more than just a job. It's also an ethical and noble profession. Attorneys have a duty to refrain from all illegal conduct. They should not resort to “cheating” in order to obtain the best cases. However, not all attorneys live up to this standard.
One unethical practice that some attorneys use is the use of “case runners” or “ambulance chasers.” Using “runners” has been a common method of cheating to get clients and cases. The objective of runners is to refer cases to a certain attorney, doctor or other professional. Thus, the runner acts as a middleperson. Runners get paid for doing this. Case runners go to hospitals, look for injured accident victims and then convince the victim to hire a certain attorney or doctor.
The consequences of using runners
In 2012, Corpus Christi's attorney, Benito Garza, and his case runner, Timothy Trevino, were punished for this practice. They were sentenced for barratry after attempting to make a sales call and offer legal services to the family of a man killed in an auto accident. Garza was sentenced to 10 years of probation, a $6,000 fine and surrender of his license to practice law. Trevino was sentenced to three years in prison. According to the Texas Penal Code, a person commits barratry if a person, with the intention to gain economic benefit, solicits employment, for themselves or for another party. Barratry is a third-degree felony offense.
Similarly, two Atlanta personal injury attorneys were disbarred in 2011 for using “case runners.” Law partners Thomas C. Sinowski and Steven F. Freedman admitted to violating Standards 13 and 26 of Bar Rule 4-102. Standards 13 provides that “a lawyer shall not compensate a person to recommend or secure employment by a client or as a reward for having made a recommendation resulting in employment by a client” while Standards 26 states that “a lawyer shall not share legal fees with a non-lawyers.”
Sinowski and Freedman said that they paid 46 runners $276,025 in 1,376 separate cases. However, the State Bar contended and asserted that they had 54 runners whom they paid $399,733 in 2,441 cases. The use of runners is an unethical and improper behavior. Sinowski and Freedman names were removed from the rolls of attorneys licensed to practice law in the state. The Georgia Supreme Court considered their offenses very serious and emphasized that they were driven by greed and were not even remorseful. Kentucky has an anti-runners statute that has very little teeth. The penalty is a maximum $100 fine. This is totally inadequate.
What should you do if a runner contacts you after an accident?
These two examples of what happens when attorneys, doctors and other professionals use runners is a good lesson for us. It reminds us that cheating should never be an option. All it's going to do is get you in trouble, and this goes for the runner and the person hiring them. Anyone contacted by a case runner should let them know that you are going to find your own attorney. The runner may try to pressure you into making a decision, but tell them that you want to take your time. You do not want to accept a "recommendation" that you don't know anything about. The attorney or doctor may not have your best interest in mind. That is why doing research is so important. You will be able to look at websites, read client reviews and pick a professional that is right for you.
As a Kentucky Personal Injury Attorney, it is disappointing to know that some of my fellow attorneys and doctors use case runners. Using runners has and will never be ethical in the legal profession. If you're a victim of an accident, don't feel pressured to take a case runner's recommendation. It is so easy to take their suggestion and be done with looking for an attorney or doctor, but it could lead to trouble in the end. Please do your research before selecting an attorney or doctor for your accident case.