Maryland Bar's unused disaster plan Soliciting lawsuits: Non-response to train wreck was green light for predatory lawyers.

March 14, 1996

AT LEAST the Maryland Bar Association admits that its failure to act quickly in the wake of the recent train tragedy in Silver Spring was wrong. By not putting a disaster plan into effect, the bar association made it easy for some members of the legal profession to fulfill the public's worst image of lawyers as greedy and insensitive to the feelings of families still stunned by grief.

But a penitent glance backward is not enough. The bar association actually has a disaster plan for such occasions, drawn up in 1989 and, so far, unused. Granted, the designers of the plan had bigger disasters in mind, such as the deadly Delta Airlines crash in Dallas that prompted the first state bar disaster plan in the mid-1980s. But sheer numbers shouldn't be the only factor the families who lost loved ones last month have just as much right to be protected from aggressive, prying lawyers as those caught up in a bigger tragedy.

It is unethical for a lawyer to intrude on a family's grief. But tell that to the father trying to make funeral arrangements for a son who receives phone calls from a lawyer claiming to have videotapes of the wreckage. Advertising is legal for lawyers when it is directed at the public, but Maryland forbids lawyers from soliciting individuals. In many cases, survivors of the train wreck and relatives of the victims found that those rules didn't do much to protect them in the wake of the tragedy.

The bar association's disaster plan could have shielded families and survivors from this needless harassment. It called for representatives of the bar to reach the scene quickly in order to be available to answer questions from people involved in the tragedy, to speak with reporters about rules limiting lawyer contacts with families and to try to monitor lawyers' attempts to solicit business.

The plan looked good on paper, but it failed the crucial test. Next time, let's hope the bar association acts in time for the sake of grieving families and for the good name of the legal profession.

Pub Date: 3/14/96

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