Skip to main content

Rat Race

A bill lawmakers passed to prevent doctors and attorneys from so-called "ambulance chasing" faces a constitutional challenge from — who else? — a chiropractor and a lawyer.

A bill lawmakers passed to prevent doctors and attorneys from so-called "ambulance chasing" faces a constitutional challenge from — who else? — a chiropractor and a lawyer.

The bill, which passed last session, prohibits doctors and lawyers from peddling their services to accident victims on the phone or in person within 30 days of the injury. The measure, which went into effect this month, also applies to lawyers who approach people accused of traffic crimes.

Supporters say the measure doesn't prevent accident victims or traffic defendants from seeking out medical care or legal representation.

"We're trying to prohibit conduct that results in economic gain to a few people who are participating in an activity that is offensive to mainstream lawyers and chiropractors," said Rep. Todd Smith, R-Euless. "Existing case law makes it clear that these sorts of prohibitions are safe so long as they're limited to some reasonable period of time."

But opponents, including the attorney and chiropractor who filed suit, say it violates their constitutional rights to free speech by limiting their ability to distribute brochures or refer clients. They say the bill goes so far as to criminalize a satisfied patient who recommends a doctor to a friend.

And because the measure doesn't affect billboards or TV and radio ads, they say, it gives an advantage to big legal and medical firms – and could harm small businesses.

The case will be in federal court in Austin next week.

Houston attorney Martyn Hill, who represents the chiropractor and the attorney, said Smith's bill is "extremely over-broad" and "totally misses the target."

"They should prohibit lawyers from accepting cases from medical professionals on a quid pro quo deal, which is what's been going on for a long time," he said. "Let's focus on what the wrong conduct is, rather than stopping things I don't think people intended for them to stop."

Support public-service journalism that gets the context right

Yes, I'll donate today