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A new D.C. law that prohibits “ambulance chasing” by lawyers or their intermediaries, called “runners,” collided with a lawsuit last week from two personal injury lawyers. The law creates a 21-day waiting period prohibiting attorneys, medical practitioners, or their runners from contacting accident victims after a crash. Violators are subject to a $1,000 fine. In their suit filed in D.C. Superior Court on Oct. 31, attorneys Scott Bergman and Robert Berkebile contend that the law violates First Amendment protections of commercial speech, the D.C. Freedom of Information Act (by denying access to public records), and the separation of powers under the D.C. Home Rule Act, which vests the D.C. Court of Appeals with the job of supervising lawyers. Bergman says the new law is putting him out of business, in part because the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department has refused to release accident reports even after the 21-day waiting period. “I’m not for runners, but I am for getting access to the information and for making direct contact,” Bergman says. “I’m seeing the insurance companies are getting more aggressive. They have complete access to the reports, which allows them to give one-sided advice to the victims and to not give fair settlements.” D.C. Council Judiciary Committee Chairman Phil Mendelson believes the law will survive the suit, even though the D.C. Attorney General’s Office pointed out that some of the same legal arguments now used in the complaint were brought up before the bill was unanimously approved by the Council in March. “When we passed the bill, we were aware of those arguments, and we do not think that they will hold water,” Mendelson says. He hopes the suit will not be a distraction from the District’s interest in regulating “ambulance chasing, which is extremely unfair to victims that have been traumatized by an accident.”
Brendan Smith can be contacted at [email protected].

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