CHICAGO (WBBM) — This story began with an email viewer from a Chicago couple who got caught in a small fender bender.
Then they were beaten again, this time on the phone, bombarded with unwanted calls and tests from law firms. CBS 2’s Lauren Victory went in search of answers.
JoAnne Berens showed us a popped bumper and two barely visible scratches.
No one was injured in the minor accident on 94th Street and Ewing Avenue. Her husband and the other person were able to drive away.
“About four hours after we filed the police report, my husband’s phone just got bombed,” Berens said.
He was bombarded with calls and texts on behalf of personal injury attorneys.
“The attorney said if he went to the hospital immediately, the attorney could guarantee him between $12,000 and $15,000 in compensation,” she said.
That bothered Berens. She wondered who would make such a bogus claim and where these law firms got their contact information from?
“The reason we called CBS News was because we wanted to find out how that happened?” she said.
Our first thought: Check to see if car accidents are tracked publicly using the City of Chicago data portal.
Sure enough, right on the home page is a link to “traffic accident” records.
From there you can open a record with all sorts of information about an accident, from date to weather conditions to injury status and, important to this story, address.
Victory showed Berens how someone could enter accident date and location using this public data and then pay $6 for victim information.
“This is my husband’s name and this is his phone number,” she said.
Trisha Rich, a legal ethics attorney at Holland and Knight, was also immediately contacted by a law firm representative after her accident in a Chicago cab.
“Actually, I was absolutely stunned,” Rich said. “I said, ‘Why do you think this isn’t a conversation prohibited under rule 7.3?’
As an expert in legal ethics, Rich knows that Rule 7.3 of the Illinois Supreme Court prohibits soliciting clients, including accident victims, over the phone.
“He was very upset,” Rich said. “In the end he hung up.”
Personal injury attorney Tim Tomasik does not do cold calls.
“It’s so professionally disconcerting to hear about his practice,” Tomasik said.
He is also president of the Chicago Bar Association and has stated that the advertising ban is designed to protect the vulnerable.
“People who have been injured, whether it’s in an accident or let’s say in a hospital, they’re overwhelmed,” Tomasik said.
Rich said: “Other ways of communicating are fine. A lawyer can mail you a letter.”
Lawyers are also allowed to solicit via SMS if their message is marked as “promotional material,” which was not the case with Berens.
Meanwhile, accident data found by CBS 2 isn’t usually posted for at least half a day. It was just five hours after the crash when cold calling and texting began for Berens’ husband.
Victory: “It still doesn’t solve the mystery of how they got your information so quickly.”
Berens: “Yes. It doesn’t.”
Whatever happened, Berens hopes the requesting attorneys will be shamed for flouting the rules.
Anyone who is bombarded with unannounced calls from attorneys can file a complaint with the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission.
Berens recently reported the numbers they illegally contacted. CBS 2 has also reached out to all cold callers. Two of them hung up on Victory. No one has found out how they got their personal information.
Other legal sources said that sometimes a doctor or police officer provides the information to law firms.
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