The District's law to block ambulance chasers isn't working, and crash victims are being deluged with phone calls from smarmy lawyers and self-described "investigators" shortly after being injured, according to police and the Trial Lawyers Association.
The 2006 law was intended to prevent lawyers from having access to police accident reports for three weeks after a crash. But the Metropolitan Police Department's policy allows accident reports to be released to anyone with an ID who signs a form saying they won't use the information to solicit legal business within the 21-day period.
Police Cmdr. Melvin Scott said the department's policy is based on a D.C. Superior Court consent order.
But many times, officers at police stations don't even bother asking for ID or require those asking for the reports to sign a form affirming that they're authorized to receive an accident report, according to an internal audit and the Trial Lawyers Association.
"I've never once been asked to fill it out, never, at multiple police stations," personal injury lawyer Keith Watters said at a D.C. Council hearing Wednesday.
Watters said there is also a thriving black market for accident information, with tow truck or ambulance drivers possibly being paid for tips.
"Let's face it, there's a lot of money at stake," he said.
An internal police report from 2008 found that "the majority of districts were not following all of the procedures" related to the anti-ambulance-chasing law.
Elderly resident Edna Russell was hit by a car in April while walking in a crosswalk and four days later a woman describing herself as an "investigator" showed up at Russell's house, handed her $200 in cash, and told her which lawyer to hire, according to Russell's attorney Douglas Smith.
At-large Councilman Phil Mendelson pressed the police department to tighten up its controls of police accident reports and initiate investigations into possible violations of District law.
"I'm really troubled by the fact that ambulance chasing continues." Mendelson said. "It's not fair to the victims."
According to Scott, there have been no prosecutions under the 2006 law.