A federal judge has overturned a Texas law that bars medical professionals from contacting victims within 30 days of an accident and lawyers from contacting people within a month of getting arrested.
U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel ruled that the law was unconstitutional and infringed on free speech. Legislators approved the law last year, saying it was aimed at unethical solicitations. The case was brought by a Houston lawyer and an Austin chiropractor.
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott’s office, which defended the law, was reviewing the opinion and had no immediate comment, a spokesman said. The office has 30 days to decided whether to appeal the ruling.
The bill has been strongly supported by the Texas Committee on Insurance Fraud, an industry group of insurance companies, state agencies and other associations that seek to put an end to insurance fraud.
Rep. Todd Smith, the Euless Republican who wrote the bill, said he hoped Abbott would appeal. Smith said in a statement that the bill was important “because we must protect the public from unethical and intrusive business practices by a small minority of unscrupulous lawyers and chiropractors.”
In his ruling, Yeakel wrote that the chiropractor in the case and his patients showed that early medical treatment was beneficial to accident victims. The judge also said no evidence was provided “to suggest that medical treatment after 31 days is as effective as early medical treatment.”
Yeakel also struck down banning lawyers’ written solicitation of people who had been arrested or received a summons. The judge cited a higher court opinion that drew a distinction between the privacy due to accident victims or those in wrongful-death cases compared to those recently arrested.
“While a criminal or traffic (defendant) may be shaken by his arrest, what he needs is representation, not time to grieve,” the judge wrote.
Attorney Martyn B. Hill, one of the plaintiffs, told the San Antonio Express-News that the ruling means a letter sent by a lawyer to someone who recently was arrested or received a traffic ticket is protected as free speech. Hill said the ruling also allows medical professionals to send truthful marketing to people within 30 days after an accident.
Information from: San Antonio Express-News, http://www.mysanantonio.com