The proverbial ambulance-chasing lawyer may have found a new route to potential clients, but that path will be blocked if one city councilman has his way.
The issue - and Gordon W. Evans' ire - were raised last month following a traffic accident involving Evans and an uninsured motorist.Within two weeks of the incident, Evans received a letter from a lawyer who offered to represent him in a lawsuit against the other driver.
"I got to checking and discovered that other people had received similar letters," said Evans.
Upon further investigation, he began to suspect that certain lawyers - including the one who contacted him - were using police accident reports to target clients.
"I'm so incensed at that," Evans said, his anger increasing as he spoke. "I don't like it when some two-bit attorney can get city records for nothing or for some small fee.
"Even though the person who hit me did not have any insurance, I felt that it was none of his (the lawyer's) business."
Evans believes it is "highly unethical" for lawyers to cull police reports for business. "Ninety percent of the attorneys in our community are honorable people and wouldn't resort to that sort of thing, but these guys are nothing but ambulance chasers."
Evans voiced his concerns before his colleagues on the West Valley City Council, asking for and receiving a unanimous vote in favor of an investigation and a report on possible remedies.
Police Chief Dennis Nordfelt said he has heard rumors of individuals changing pleas or filing civil suits after being contacted by lawyers who had examined police reports.
"I don't know if that is occurring, but I'm going to find out," he said. "I've written a memo to the city manager and attorney saying we ought to get together and talk about it."
As a matter of law, the accident reports are available to the public for a fee - $4 - and there is probably no way to stop lawyers from getting them, Nordfelt said.
"There might be an ethical question here, but that is for someone else to answer," the chief said, adding that he personally would be offended by an uninvited sales pitch from a lawyer.
One possible solution, according to Evans and Nordfelt, is to raise the price of the reports.
Evans would like to see the fee out of reach of "cheap lawyers," suggesting it go as high as $20.