Ambulance Chaser

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Meaning of Idiom 'Ambulance Chaser'

An ambulance chaser is a lawyer who encourages people who have been injured in an accident or who are ill due to someone's negligence to sue for damages, in order to profit from someone else's trouble; any unethical or inferior lawyer; any lawyer who is overly aggressive in seeking out clients. 1,2

Usage

This idiom is always pejorative.

Examples:

"I can't believe you hired that ambulance chaser. You should fire him and get a good lawyer."

"If you see personal injury lawyer, it means "ambulance chaser. Those guys just want to get rick off of other people's misfortunes."

Origin

Since the late 1800's, ambulance chaser has referred to attorneys who aggressively searched for people who were injured so that they could convince them to sue for damages. Such lawyers would charge large contingency fees and receive a large proportion of damages. The term alludes to such lawyers actually following ambulances to the scenes of accidents or to the hospital to be on hand to seek clients. 1

Although the present idiom only came into common use in late 19th century, the concept of dishonest or sleazy lawyers who encouraged people to frivolous litigation is quite old. The term barratry, which first described negligence of a ship's master or crew, but later came to mean something quite similar to ambulance chaser, is medieval in origin.

Sources
1. Ammer, Christine. American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013.
2. Chapman, Robert L., and Barbara Ann. Kipfer. American Slang. New York: Collins Reference, 2005.

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