Don't fall victims to 'ambulance chasers' after a crash

A local woman who got in a crash on I-5 says she talked to the state patrol, notified her insurance company, and figured that was the end of it. Then she started getting calls encouraging her to get a medical evaluation.

Bernice Velatequi says she's certain she was not hurt when she rear-ended an SUV that cut in front of her in a crawling freeway back-up.

"I didn't hit him hard," Velatequi explained, "because we were driving actually bumper to bumper."

She gave information to the state patrol and notified her insurance company. Weeks later, she gets a phone call from a man who knew her name, and knew she'd been in a crash.

"I said, 'Who is this?' And he says, 'Well, I'm concerned about the accident and if you were hurt.' And I said 'No, I was not hurt,'" she said.

Her car has minimal damage. The hood has since been straightened, but Bernice insists the impact had minimal jolt.

"Oh no I wasn't hurt at all! He says 'Yeah, but maybe not today, maybe tomorrow, maybe a week from now'."

He wanted to Bernice up for a free medical evaluation, which he said would be paid for by the doctor. The doctor he wanted to make an appointment with is a Chiropractor.

The man who called Velatequi is want many call an ambulance chaser. Ambulance chasers track virtually every collision in the state through public records, then call people involved -- with the ultimate goal of referring them to medical, legal, or auto repair professionals with whom the callers have business arrangements.

Like Velatequi, other consumers complain of of getting the calls when they had no injuries. And getting repeated calls after they decline the offer.

Velatequi says she finally hung up on the man that called her but got another call several days later.

"The second time I recognized the voice, I just hung up. And the third time I just hung up again.", she said.

Then, a week or so later, she got a fourth call.

"Well when you get the same calls over and over again, you get a little suspicious," Velatequi exclaimed.

On the fourth call, Velatequi decided to set up an appointment as a way of finding out more about just what was going on. Then she called me. I alerted her to the red flags: stranger calls out of the blue, stranger calls repeatedly even after you hang up and say you're not interested, stranger continues to push you to make an appointment with someone you've never heard of, even though you insist you're not injured. During our visit, she called the solicitor and told him to cancel her appointment. He seemed reluctant to take no for an answer- but eventually ended the call.

Some ambulance chasing organizations insist they are actually helping people after accidents by answering their questions about insurance and educating them about their rights when filing claims. They say many accident victims may feel fine initially, but have problems days, even months later that are linked to the accident. These companies are often paid to make calls and referrals- by chiropractors, medical doctors, lawyers and other "auto accident professionals" who avoid state and professional laws and standards that prohibit their direct solicitation to consumers.

While it's true that insurance companies may be quick to close a claim before you really know you're okay- there are better ways to protect yourself than dealing with complete stranger- essentially a telemarketer- who's often calling from another part of the state or country. It's not uncommon for these organizations to have business agreements with "auto accident professionals" nationwide- so they can simply line you up with someone in your area. As for the "free" medical evaluation Valetequi was being pushed to get, the reality is those evaluations can often lead to recurring office visits, and recurring claims against your health insurance, not to mention and out-of-pocket costs.

You should also know the Washington State Patrol is required by law to make most information on collision reports available to the public. Some jurisdictoons, like the Seattle Police Department, heavily redact all personal information from collision repoorts in their public record system.

But WSP says all police departments must forward complete collision reports to the state- where only certain information is redacted- including license information and social security numbers- before being made available for public disclosure. According to the WSP public records division, the same 10 to 15 records viewers show up at the Tumwater office every week, to go through that public information.

While the collection and use of public information for business purposes is likely not illegal in Velatequi's case, state health officials say the repeated calls raised a red flag. There are also concerns about the ethics of some people using the collision report information. If you feel you've been contacted by a stranger after and accident and feel you've been misled, harassed, or taken advantage off- by someone working on behalf of a medical doctor, contact the State Medical Quality Assurance Commission. For complaints about solicitors working on behalf of chiropractors, contact the Washington Chiropractic Quality Assurance Board.

And remember, if you have questions or concerns after an accident and don't hve established relationships with medical, legal or auto repair professionals, talk to friends, relatives, and co-workers you trust, who do. Do your homework and you make the call. Be caustion about dealing with strangers who call you out of the blue after obtained your collision report through public records.