Spill some coffee on your lap? Suspect your morbid obesity is someone else's fault? Want a Frivolous Lawsuit and want it now? The Ambulance Chaser is your man!
This opportunistic and morally unscrupulous lawyer can usually be found representing the plaintiff in trumped-up junk lawsuits and perpetrating Courtroom Antics. He will find the right doctors, extract the right testimony, and badger the right witnesses to make sure you're compensated for whatever it was that may or may not have actually been done to you (and that he gets his cut). If he's losing, expect lots and lots of motions and requests that serve no real purpose other than to cause you to waste so much time responding to all of them that you'll gladly move to settle just to get him off your ass. If he wants to settle, he'll sue everyone with even the slightest connection to the defendant in order to drag them in and put as much pressure as possible on the main target. Did he lose? He's going to appeal and grasp at every last straw to make it stick, and if he's a really sore loser, he may try to interfere with the livelihood of anyone who he blames for the defeat. Persistent and extreme incivility marks virtually every interaction with him; god help anyone stuck in a deposition with him, as he is the kind of person who will scream at, verbally abuse, and quite possibly physically threaten everyone on the other side in order to show them just how much he means business. If they advertise on daytime television and highway billboards, you're probably looking at one, especially if they operate out of a location in a strip mall on the edge of town.
This trope is usually played for laughs, as the more corrupt the Ambulance Chaser, the more ridiculous their cases will be.
The name originates from the cultural perception that lawyers are Corrupt Corporate Executive-like opportunistic scavengers who profit from misfortune and will take on cases regardless of merit for the sake of money; if they aren't working on a contingent fee arrangement, they will be more than happy to take a case with just enough factual and legal merit in order to run up a large bill if they know that the client will pay even though they know that they probably won't be able to win or settle. Ergo, when a lawyer sees an ambulance blazing by, he comes to the logical conclusion that someone has been injured, and therefore, requires legal representation as someone should always be responsible for his injury.
Note that within the legal profession, calling someone an ambulance chaser is equivalent to calling him/her bottom-feeding scum. The "polite" term (in North America at any rate) is "plaintiff's lawyer" or "personal-injury lawyer/attorney"...but even that doesn't do much to hide the disdain of pretty much every other form of lawyer for them. If a legal professional specifically refers to an attorney as an "ambulance chaser", they're straight-up calling them an asshole. Still, while they may not exactly be the most upstanding members of the legal profession, they stay around because the cases that they take, while seemingly asinine and ridiculous (and they very well may be), still have some basic legal ground, and no smart attorney is going to take a truly frivolous case. Doing so counts as barratry, and attorneys who repeatedly take ridiculous cases with no legal merit can and frequently will get suspended for long enough to effectively shut them out of the legal profession, or disbarred in cases of truly extreme misconduct or a lengthy history of being a menace to the profession. Contingent fee setups also offer a strong disincentive to accepting questionable cases, as the prospect of eating the cost of an unsuccessful case is something that gives most attorneys a very good reason to make a solid inquiry into the facts of the case before choosing to pursue it. If it's either complete bullshit or has no legal backing, they will decline unless they really want to get an entry on their public disciplinary record (or they think they can quickly settle it, which often leads right back to the former).
Some attorneys do get duped, however; sometimes, clients will lie or omit significant portions of the story (i.e., a personal injury client telling their attorney that the defendant severely beat them, but leaving out the part where they violently attacked the defendant and instigated the matter, the defendant got away, and the plaintiff wanted a second go and hunted them down); the dividing line is that a legitimate attorney will cease representation after learning of the deception, while a dirtbag will keep pursuing the case to the bitter end. Extreme rudeness and incivility in representation are also strongly discouraged, as it's a very easy way to get hit with sanctions when the opposing side reports to the judge that you've been a gigantic dick to them for no good reason. If your impertinence crosses into outright misconduct, you very well may lose what may have actually been a legitimate case for your client, as there are also very clear rules about how clients cannot profit from the unethical behavior of their attorneys, even if they likely would have had a favorable determination otherwise, and that sort of outcome will get you sued for malpractice by your furious client.
Note also that in several European countries which follow civil law jurisdiction rather than common law, this kind of practice is explicitly prohibited: one must not gain benefit from injury and/or compensations.
The Ambulance Chaser shows up when Hilarity Sues. Expect comments of ambulance chasing in a good Evil Lawyer Joke. For the dramatic, competent, defense attorney version, see Amoral Attorney. Ambulance chasing lawyers often appear in commercials on TV. Compare Bunny-Ears Lawyer for when lawyers are merely eccentric rather than amoral.
- The Verdict has Paul Newman as a disgraced bigshot attorney who's become a drunk and now limits himself to trolling funerals for clients. The film kicks off with him finding a case to care about.
- Even before being seduced into a murder plot in Body Heat by Femme Fatale Matty, it's clear that Ned Racine is a particularly disreputable low-rent lawyer.
- In Revenge of the Nerds III, Dudley "Booger" Dawson from the first film is an attorney, and he gets a call from the new-generation Tri-Lambs to help them out of legal trouble. He says he's on his way to meet a client. In fact, he's tailgating an ambulance.
- Deck Shifflet from The Rainmaker qualifies except for one thing: he hasn't managed to pass the bar exam.
- "Whiplash Willie" Gingrich (Walter Matthau) in Billy Wilder's The Fortune Cookie.
- Roland T. Flakfizer from Brain Donors is a literal Ambulance Chaser — his very first appearance in the filmnote features him chasing an ambulance on foot to the scene of an automobile accident, where he immediately begins to yell about the impending lawsuits he plans to file.
- Joe Adler of the Mike Judge movie Extract is usually thought of as this. Judge apparently based him on a Real Life lawyer.
- In Interstate 60, the protagonist Neal comes across a town called Morlaw while on the titular road, in which all the residents are lawyers and everybody sues everybody. While in a lawyer's office, Neal sees an ambulance driving by, with a HORDE of other lawyers running after it.
- In Rat Race, noted attorney Gloria Allred (As Herself) was nearby when a man got run over by an ambulance and was ready to make this man into a client. Knowing the attorney's reputation, the driver quickly agreed to give the man a ride.
- The Amoral Attorney in North is introduced in this manner.
- In My Cousin Vinny, Vinny was clearly expecting a career in this mold before the events of the film. When he spots a man in a neck brace, he stops to ask how the man hurt himself, then loses interest when he learns that the man was on his own property.
- A deleted scene from Bruce Almighty has Bruce answer a woman's prayer for more money by causing a milk spillage in a supermarket, having her slip on it, and having a lawyer immediately turn up.
- In one of his movies, Jack Benny plays such a lawyer with Eddie "Rochester" Anderson as his assistant. While talking to a client in his office an ambulance screams by and both men jump to their feet and start to race to the door. Remembering their client they stop, shrug and sit back down with Benny saying something "Well, next time."
- Joe Miller in Philadelphia has cheesy TV ads and hands out his business card to random people in hospitals and on the street.
- The Client: Gil Beale, the first lawyer that Mark tries to hire. He sits around in hospital waiting rooms looking for potential clients. And Mark is sent away by his secretary who says he only attends injury cases and there is already a line (though this is admittedly the correct thing to do - this is a lawyer who would be profoundly out of his depth/experience in the kind of case Mark needed him for, even if he were completely well-intentioned).
- Stanley Hastings from the Stanley Hastings series is a self-described ambulance chaser.
- The werewolf lawyers in Barking by Tom Holt do, in fact, have an instinctive tendency to chase ambulances.
- The Book of Mormon includes a city where the lawyers deliberately "stir up the people to riotings, and all manner of disturbances and wickedness, that they might have more employ". They don't take kindly to the missionaries calling them out.
- Mitchell Stephens of The Sweet Hereafter says he knows he comes across like this, but he doesn't care - his real goal is to make lawsuits so costly for corporations that they'll take the time and spend the money on safety, instead of cutting costs and putting other people at risk.
- Anna's lawyer in My Sister's Keeper travels with a service dog, despite the fact that (as everyone he meets is constantly noting) he isn't blind. Unwilling to admit that he suffers from epilepsy, his sarcastic responses to that observation are a running gag in the book. One is, "I'm a lawyer. He chases ambulances for me."
- The Rainmaker by John Grisham has examples where lawyers creep around accidents, and hospitals to pick up insurance cases.
- A particularly noteworthy scene involves protagonist Rudy's friend and advisor Deck waking him up in the middle of the night with no explanation, and taking him to the scene of a horrible accident: a riverboat sank and the police are retrieving bodies from the water. The police announce to the crowd that they've identified the body of a particular person, causing a wail of despair from the deceased's family. And then the lawyers strike, trying to get close to the grieving family and offering their business cards. Rudy watches all this, stunned and disgusted, and then watches Deck do the same thing. Rudy runs away into the night, and it marks the real turning point of his disillusionment with the practice of law.
- Our Miss Brooks: In the episode "Hospital Capers", a lawyer (a literal ambulance chaser) gets Mr. Boynton to sign a contract hiring him as counsel; the contract features a hefty penalty if Mr. Boynton chooses to terminate his representation. When Miss Brooks visits the lawyer, he hands her ever larger magnifying glasses to read the contract's fine print. Lampshaded when the lawyer admits to Miss Brooks that he's been disbarred in several states.
- I Dream of Jeannie: When Jeannie gets amnesia after being hit on the head at NASA, she's represented by a lawyer who happens to have been on a tour of the base at the time.
- Shameless (UK): A pair of them get Frank to sue Yvonne, and when he drops the case he gets a bill for a thousand pounds.
- Shameless (US): Frank's lawyer can be found pouring water on stairs leading to train stations. When the water freezes and someone slips on the ice, he is right there to offer his services to sue the city.
- Garrett Price, the attorney in the Monk episode "Mr. Monk Gets Stuck in Traffic" that Monk and Natalie meet during a traffic stoppage following a car accident. Price actually solicits Natalie when she's sitting in the back of an ambulance, getting treated for a broken arm. He reappears in "Mr. Monk and the Man Who Shot Santa Claus".
- In "Mr. Monk and the Marathon Man," when Monk and Sharona stop by a crime scene they happened to see while driving by, Stottlemeyer asks Monk if he's chasing ambulances.
- On Barney Miller, Arnold Ripner had the reputation for being this type of lawyer at the start, to the point of trying to drum up business amongst those in the holding cell whenever he came to represent another client who arrested. However, he quickly evolved into a full-fledged Amoral Attorney, successfully suing Harris for Harris' depiction of him in his novel Blood on the Badge and ruining his career as an author.
- What's Happening!! had an episode where Rerun got sick while at Rob's Place and wound up in the hospital. The initial diagnosis was food poisoning. His roommate in the hospital is a man in a body cast (he was in a bus accident) and meets his lawyer, who then suggests suing Rob over it. Later, when Rerun's illness turns out to be appendicitis, the lawyer wants to turn it into a malpractice suit against the hospital, but Rerun (who's gotten fed up with all the drama) tells him, "The Pacific Ocean is that way. Keep walking until your briefcase floats."
- Jackie Chiles, Kramer's attorney from Seinfeld, who was a caricature of Real Life defense attorney Johnnie Cochran.
- Barry Zuckercorn and, later, Bob Loblaw in Arrested Development.
Loblaw: Why should you go to jail for a crime someone else... noticed?
- JAG: In "Standards of Conduct", one of these goes after Harm in a traffic accident scam. Actually Harm concedes that he doesn't know enough about civil law/tort to handle it himself.
- The Valeyard from the Doctor Who story arc Trial of a Time Lord story arc appeared to be this at first. He isn't. He's actually much worse.
- One of the villains in Reaper was one who returned from the dead with leech powers. Bloodsucking attorney indeed.
- Referenced in Pushing Daisies, when the main characters, a private investigation team, see a cropduster crash into a building. They then go over there and Chuck says that she's asking without any judgment whether this behaviour qualifies as ambulance chasing. Emerson says "if you're asking without any judgment then yes it does."
- Saul Goodman from Breaking Bad and his own Spin-Off Better Call Saul is a clear example of this, complete with garish, low-budget TV commercials that would make Lionel Hutz jealous. However, he is actually deliberately cultivating this image in order to hide both how incredibly competent and incredibly crooked he actually is. See also his entry in Amoral Attorney. He tried to be a competent desk lawyer in the past but realized he needs the showmanship and his ethic is too garbage for it.
- An episode of Lois & Clark features one. He's representing a former rock musician who's suing Superman due to Superman allegedly having injured his hand while saving him and ruining his musical career. The case gets dropped when Lois convinces the musician's girlfriend to walk in front of a live news broadcast and tell the camera that the musician's hand is just fine and he's been faking it the whole time for publicity.
- The Rockford Files episode "The Attractive Nuisance" features one.
- Claire Sawyer, future lawyer, from Ned's Declassified School Survival Guide works with her fellow middle schoolers and will work up lawsuits on anyone someone asks her to, no matter how ridiculous the case is.
- A Night Court episode has Bull's cousin as one of these, who sues Roz after Bull borrows her gun and shoots himself in the foot.
- Picket Fences: "Douglas Wambaugh for the Defense, your Honor"
- On Dharma & Greg, Greg at one point got his own practice and swore he wouldn't be an ambulance chaser. However, business was very slow and he started to get depressed. Then one night, he heard an ambulance park right outside his building. After pausing to consider, he made his decision:
Greg: It's not chasing if it's parked.
- Franklin & Bash has the titular characters acting as Lighter and Softer versions in the first episode before they move to a large law firm. One of the first things they do in the series is hear a car accident, rush to the scene, and represent the guy who caused it in a suit against an ad company because their billboard "distracted" him.
- An episode of Tales from the Crypt dealt with an unscrupulous lawyer being held in a small town which metes out Disproportionate Retribution through its court system. The lawyer was going to be given ten lashes for having too many numbers on her license plate. As a Fate Worse than Death, she winds up replacing the defense attorney... and is going to remain as such until someone from the outside world stumbles into town and replaces her.
- A character in Brazilian soap opera "Caminho das Índias" was a labor attorney who encouraged his potential clients to fake injuries to sue their employers.
- The protagonists of The Practice have this reputation among other lawyers due to their somewhat sleazy tactics and their willingness to represent (often successfully) clients with fairly shaky claims, e.g. suing a carnival clown for fat shaming. They're a much more sympathetic version than usual, and one of them says that, while their nuisance lawsuits may seem frivolous or silly, they matter to the people who file them.
- The Babylon 5 TV Movie "The River Of Souls" features Captain Lochley and the station sued for harassment by the operator of a holographic brothel. The lawyer he hires is referred to as one of these.
- Scorpion features a particularly incompetent one named Haywood Jahelpme Morris for a four-episode arc in Season 2. And yes, that's his legal name. He had it changed.
- The Night Of has John Stone, a lowly lawyer who trawls late-night police precincts for hookers and pushers to recruit as clients. He advertises on the subway and pays cops to hand out his cheesy business cards. While he waits on a client, a cop cracks that he's just heard an ambulance siren pass by and asks if Stone wants to chase after it.
- Lethal Weapon (2016) has Leo Getz, who seems the archetypical ambulance chaser. However late in the episode, he makes the point that while he would do fine in a legitimate firm, there are very few lawyers in those firms that could survive in his world.
- Daredevil (2015): Alluded to in the season 3 finale when Foggy approaches Brett Mahoney to warn him about Matt contemplating killing Wilson Fisk, while Brett is in the midst of taking Fisk's fixer Felix Manning into custody (after Matt had dangled Felix off a roof for information)
Brett Mahoney: I thought "ambulance chaser" was a figure of speech.Foggy Nelson: Not one of your best burns, Detective.
- In Toontown Online, one of the cogs are called Ambulance Chasers. Too bad there aren't any real ambulances in the game.
- "Legal" Lee from the video game Saints Row acts like this, and his forte is insurance fraud. And he does, in fact, drive an ambulance.
- He reappears in Saints Row 2 as Johnny Gat's lawyer. When a dropped gun goes off, he asks if anyone was hit and needs a lawyer. He also asks you to don a police uniform in the side mission "FUZZ" in order to turn public opinion against the police.
- Ace Attorney: Despite the games actually averting this through the thematics of the cases, at least one witness attempted to insult Phoenix Wright by calling him this. It worked. And the witness went DOOOOWN.
- In Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, Ken Rosenberg is often referred to as being one of these. Not that he doesn't come in handy whenever YOU get arrested.
He also has another Informed Flaw: being very bad at his job. One character says that Rosenberg could "defend an innocent man all the way to death row," and while some of the events of the plot seem to bear this notion out — e.g., him asking Tommy to intimidate the jury because he himself can't (although that was understandable, given how stressed he was at the time) — others, like his aforementioned ease in bailing Tommy out after he gets arrested, do not.
- In a Grand Theft Auto V radio commercial, the lawyers take a more proactive approach to ambulance chasing by telling people to 'throw themselves in front of vehicles' to get injured for lawsuits.
- One U-Drive It mission in SimCity 4 has you driving an accident victim to an unscrupulous lawyer's office instead of straight to the hospital, so they can prepare a lawsuit.
- A background conversation in Mass Effect 3: Citadel involves a lawyer explaining why it is a very bad idea to chase an ambulance in a skycar.
- In Scribblenauts, spawning an ambulance and then spawning a lawyer will cause the lawyer to run after the ambulance.
- Schlock Mercenary has the partnership collective, a hivemind of lawyer snakes. After a certain story arc, the protagonists are tasked with and paid for "administering punitive damages" against the collective for damage the Collective caused in a revenge plan against Tagon's Toughs. Mainly done by blowing up attorneys and their property. At a point in the comic, they take on to patrolling coffee shops, ambulance companies, and divorce courts because of just losing their ship and being broke.
- In the anthropomorphic world of Kevin & Kell, the vast majority of lawyers are sharks. And they will take "an arm and a leg".
- In a sequence from Wapsi Square starting more or less here, Bud the indestructible golem girl has a slight accident with the sidewalk. When she discovers that the hunk who comes to her assistance is actually an ambulance-chasing lawyer she decides to give him his comeuppance.
- Frequently representing the Simpson family until 1998, Lionel Hutz (AKA Miguel Sanchez, AKA Dr. Nguyen Van Phuoc) is an unscrupulous, unqualified failure, and the only lawyer willing to represent Homer in his various trumped-up junk lawsuits (e.g., this exchange from "New Kid On the Block"):
Homer: All you can eat ... Ha!
Hutz: Mr. Simpson, this is the most blatant case of fraudulent advertising since my suit against the film The Neverending Story.
Homer: So, do you think I have a case?
Hutz: I don't use the word "hero" very often, but you ... are the greatest hero ... in American history.
Lionel Hutz: Hey, how about that? I just looked something up! Those books behind me just don't make the office look good, they're full of interesting legal tidbits just like this!
- It's particularly on display in his first episode, "Bart Gets Hit by a Car". When he shows up beside Bart's hospital bed, Homer mentions that he saw Hutz literally chasing Bart's ambulance. After they initially decline his offer, he leaves the room and immediately goes after some paramedics pushing a gurney. "Lionel Hutz Attorney at Law!... Is that a broken neck?... great!" And later, when Homer visits him in his office, he hears an ambulance go by and starts to leave, before suppressing the urge and resuming his talk with Homer.
- All of the above notwithstanding, Hutz was also capable of grabbing the Smart Ball whenever an episode's plot required it. In "New Kid On The Block", Hutz won the lawsuit Homer filed against the Frying Dutchman restaurant, in part by being lucky enough to have a jury full of fat people and in part by putting Marge on the stand and pointing out that the lengths they went to find another all-you-can-eat fish restaurant were not those of a man who'd had "all he could eat." In "Flaming Moe's", Homer tries to sue Moe for stealing a drink recipe that Moe stole from him, but Hutz actually bothers to do some research and points out that you can't copyright a drink:
- Hutz doesn't seem to understand conflict of interest either. He agreed to represent people in a lawsuit against the producers of a local version of A Streetcar Named Desire for not having roles despite Hutz himself playing Mitch.
- Stan Freezoid in Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law, who casually hands out his cards to people who slip on the trail of ice he leaves behind.
- In The Sylvester and Tweety Mysteries, there was an episode featuring a Swedish lawyer named Pjerry Nelson, who was voted as most likely to become an ambulance chaser.
- There is Joe Addler from Beavis And Butthead, who has ads on TV about lawsuits concerning whiplash damage and taking on frivolous sexual harassment cases. In one episode, when asked if he had ever been jailed for contempt of court, he answers that he "believe[s] that was among the charges, yes."
- In one episode of Rugrats, Angelica sues her father note . At one point, she fires her lawyer, sending him off with:
Angelica: It's back to chasing ambulances for you.
- In an episode of Beetlejuice in which the title character is shown a world where he didn't exist the Monster Across the Street (or rather, The Monster Who Lives Down The Block) has become this type of lawyer. He literally drops a conversation with BJ to chase down an ambulance.