Ambulance Chasers and the First Amendment

On October 9, 2013, the Michigan House of Representatives passed two bills of three bills in a package some are calling Ambulance Chaser bills.  These three bills (HB 4770, 4771, and 4772) seek to prevent certain businesses from taking advantage of motor vehicle accidents by restricting their access to accident reports and regulating contact they have with accident victims and their families for 30 days following an accident. 

Entities seeking accident reports during the 30 day window must sign a statement acknowledging that, for a period of 30 days after the report is filed, they are prohibited from contacting anyone listed in the report for purposes of solicitation and from disclosing personal information in the report to third parties for the purpose of commercial solicitation to parties named in the report. Violations are punishable by a fine of up to $15,000 for a first offense and imprisonment of up to one year or a $30,000 fine, or both, for second and subsequent offenses.

I find the behavior of some parties who contact accident victims and their families after an accident to be repugnant, and, at first glance, I might be tempted to shout HALLELUIAH!  Contacting an individual to offer services and then leaving them alone to decide if they require your services is one thing, but we all know some of these businesses go beyond the pale with their solicitation efforts. 

But the question I must ask is, should government regulate repugnant behavior?

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees the right to freedom of speech.  It doesn’t guarantee the right to freedom of speech, except repugnant speech; it guarantees free speech, period.  Thus it would appear those organizations and individuals who peruse accident reports looking for potential customers are within their rights to speak to accident victims and their families to solicit business, regardless of what anyone else may think of such behavior, and any law restricting those activities, including those recently passed in the Michigan house, abridges their freedom of speech.



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