UNITED STATES—The aftermath of a car accident is stressful, scary and full of uncertainty. After an accident, you will likely worry about your health, necessary expenses and legal representation. Unfortunately, it can be easy to be taken advantage of in this desperate situation, making it crucial to watch out for a little-known and sneaky tactic called “ambulance chasing.”

Ambulance chasing is a tactic that law firms use to find and trick new clients into using their services. These law offices employ people to arrive on the scene of an accident and recruit people in a desperate situation to a firm’s services. These people, sometimes called runners or cappers, only serve their own interests.

How Does Ambulance Chasing Work?

Runners often listen to scanners or have connections to emergency responders that quickly alert them of a recent accident. These runners arrive at the scene of the accident acting as friendly passersby giving a helpful and innocent recommendation, but, in reality, their agenda is solely to encourage you to use the services of a specific lawyer, regardless of whether this lawyer is the best to take on your case.

Ambulance chasing can appear in many forms, so you should be mindful of the different methods to avoid being scammed. For example, a runner may arrive on the scene of your accident and act as a witness while casually recommending which lawyer you should work with. They may also come on the scene and be quick to offer to call you a tow truck, taking note of your contact information in the process. Some runners will even arrive at the hospital to start a conversation about your situation and offer advice.

These methods allow the runners to collect your information and provide it to a law firm that is ready to use your situation to fill their pockets. In a stressful situation, like after an accident, a helping hand and friendly advice are welcome, but unfortunately, you need to keep your guard up for ulterior motives.

Is Ambulance Chasing Legal?

Ambulance chasing is considered a shady and unethical tactic for lawyers to solicit new clients. The tactic is not only unethical but is also illegal in California under the Business and Professions Code, Section 6152, which states that a contract with an attorney or law firm that came about through a runner or capper is not illegitimate.

Any firm that uses this tactic is subject to a fine and must return any fees collected back to the victim. Although lawyers have the right to advertise legally, ambulance chasing is a calculated way to connect clients with a lawyer that may not be looking out for their best interests.

You should keep in mind that it is not illegal for someone to recommend a lawyer to you if they are not receiving compensation for it. Ambulance chasers, however, are paid by a law firm to use manipulative methods to push you toward using their services.

If you suspect a law firm is ambulance chasing, you should immediately report it to the California state bar association. The California Rules of Professional Responsibility expressly prohibit a direct solicitation made by or on behalf of a member or law firm that the lawyer or law firm has no family or prior professional relationship with. No respectable law firm should attempt to prey on people who are desperate and concerned about their next move. If you are in an accident, be on the lookout for suspicious recommendations and do your own research before choosing a lawyer.