Last year, Terry got into a fender bender. The police took down his name and address for their report. In three weeks, the mail started coming.
"We help people who have been injured. Call us!" urged a lawyer.
"I'm sorry to hear that you were recently involved in a car accident," wrote two chiropractors in identical letters. "Hopefully you were not seriously injured." Just in case he was aching, they included gift certificates for free massages.
To his chagrin, Terry learned that certain professionals review accident reports to find potential clients. He tried to find out if anyone could look at such reports and got mixed answers. Accident reports submitted to the state Department of Public Safety aren't public records. But basic data filed by police on incident reports, including the names of drivers involved in accidents, are public.
So the professionals drumming up business by combing through accident reports aren't breaking privacy laws. Terry still doesn't think it's right. Is it ambulance chasing? Or the American way?
"My family had something similar happen. We had one family member critically injured in an accident, and two other family members perished. The surviving member was neither physically or emotionally prepared to answer calls from attorneys that hounded her by calling her ICU hospital room. The only way we stopped the calls was to institute a password with the hospital switchboard so they knew who to put through and who not to. NOBODY, but nobody, should have to go to these lengths to protect their privacy, and to heal from an already horrendous accident."
"If you get some postal spam that offends you, like this, you can use USPS Form 1500 to force the sender to never again send you mail. The form says it's for stopping porn ads, but a U.S. Supreme Court decision holds that it can be used against anyone. You might have to send it to the USPS yourself, though, if your local post office won't accept it."
"My 16-year-old son was rear-ended and a police report was filed. Within a week or two he started receiving letters from lawyers. I was not exactly pleased to realize that my minor's name and address were part of a public record that was so easy to obtain."
"My last car was a magnet for accidents, for some reason -- I was rear-ended three times in three years after never having had an accident before. So I'm also very familiar with these types of solicitations. They're annoying, but it just means I put a few extra ounces of paper in the trash every week. It's not like a lawyer showed up in person at the front door and badgered me to sue."
"One company got the names of all who licensed their dogs in Golden Valley and called us about dog-related services. It's not just lawyers who troll public records for private solicitations."