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Attorneys who specialize in personal injury cases are prohibited by a code of ethics from actively soliciting potential clients immediately after an accident or injury has occurred. An unscrupulous legal professional who does approach injured parties or their family members at the hospital could rightfully be called an ambulance chaser. A lawyer described as an ambulance chaser might literally follow an ambulance to a hospital, or use other unethical means to identify potential clients. A few attorneys may actually embrace the title, but the vast majority of legal professionals see the term "ambulance chaser" as pejorative and insulting.
Personal injury attorneys earn a significant amount of their income from financial judgements awarded to their clients. This practice is not unethical in and of itself, since many personal injury attorneys do not charge their clients for the prep work preceding a trial. This is why most personal injury attorneys are very selective about the cases they accept, since their income is contingent on the presentation of a strong case in court. The temptation to become an "ambulance chaser" in order to solicit the best clients and cases can be very strong indeed.
The decision to pursue legal action against the party or parties believed responsible for the accident or injury is generally left up to the injured person himself or herself. A scrupulous attorney can offer a free consultation, but only after the injured party has initiated first contact. Only an "ambulance chaser" would ever approach the injured party first and attempt to persuade him or her to pursue legal action. This kind of aggressive behavior is a direct violation of the legal bar association's code of ethics, and it can lead to permanent disbarment if the allegations are proven true.
The concept of an "ambulance chaser" can also be applied in the business world. Some unscrupulous or opportunistic corporate raiders could learn of a company's current financial troubles and literally swoop in to offer their questionable assistance. Essentially, a skilled but unethical business attorney could use his or her skills to become a corporate "ambulance chaser," actively soliciting business from companies in crisis.
Families in crisis mode following a serious accident may not be in the right frame of mind to deal with potential legal actions. This is why many people view the aggressive solicitations of an "ambulance chaser" to be especially cruel or opportunistic. Ethical legal professionals may advertise their services and areas of expertise, but they are not permitted to approach potential clients outside of their own offices.