Legal professionals are warning people who are injured in accidents not to fall victim to touts offering legal services.
"It is an increasingly common practice in South African hospitals and emergency rooms," says Kirstie Haslam, partner at Cape Town-based DSC Attorneys.
"Touts approach people who are confused, suffering and in pain – and sometimes they can be convincing and persistent. However, it's not in your interests to use the services promoted by touts, whose behaviour is unethical and untrustworthy."
What is touting?
Touting is a direct and persistent attempt to sell something to, or solicit work from a person who has been injured in an accident, explains Haslam. It involves the unethical gathering of information without the accident victim's knowledge or consent.
She points out that in South Africa, the Law Society of the Northern Provinces (LSNP), KwaZulu-Natal Law Society (KZNLS) and the Cape Law Society (CLS) all prohibit the practice of touting. Lawyers and their representatives are not allowed to approach potential clients directly for work.
The LSNP has published guidelines on what exactly amounts to touting.
According to these guidelines, it is unethical and unprofessional conduct for attorneys to:
- approach potential clients face-to-face to promote their services,
- employ or incentivise anyone to arrange referrals or introductions of clients, or
- make unsolicited visits or telephone calls, or send emails or letters, to anyone who has an existing attorney/client relationship.
The most common forms of touting in South Africa
Haslam says that the most common type of touting occurs in hospitals, and it revolves around personal injury claims – especially Road Accident Fund (RAF) claims.
"Agents approach accident victims or their families and make wild assertions about securing millions of rand in compensation for their injuries and suffering," she says.
This practice has become so prevalent that it came to the attention of the former minister of transport, Dipuo Peters. She described corrupt attorneys and their touts as vultures and "tsotsis" who were robbing victims of accidents.
How to avoid falling victim to touts
Avoid engaging with anyone who approaches you directly, claiming to be a personal injury lawyer or legal agent, says Haslam. "Never ever share information of a personal or medical nature with a stranger who approaches you at the scene of an accident or in a medical environment to offer you legal services, and never ever sign any type of documents with them of any nature."
"Touting is totally unethical and may in some instances amount to criminal conduct," she says. "No credible attorney would risk being struck off the role, and no reputable law firm would break one of the cardinal rules of its own profession."
"Instead, if you have a personal injury claim, contact an established, reputable law firm with a proven track record in personal injury law," she advises. "This is the best way to avoid scams and ensure you get only competent legal advice and assistance."