Lawyers Slow to Seek Business from Families of TWA Victims

Article excerpt

NEW YORK (AP) -- The downing of TWA Flight 800 brought carnage and grief and anger. So where are the ambulance chasers?

New York law limits solicitation by lawyers, but even stricter measures in Florida didn't keep attorneys from descending on the relatives of victims of the ValuJet crash.

Some say the TWA tragedy is different: There was no quick determination of cause, international and marine law could severely limit any settlements, and quick disciplinary action against some lawyers in the ValuJet crash may have sent a message.

After the ValuJet flight went down in the Florida Everglades with 110 people on board in May, lawyers telephoned, sent flowers and mailed packages stuffed with brochures and contracts. Some families complained that lawyers even lurked behind plants in the hotel lobby waiting to approach them.

Although a few relatives of the 230 victims of Flight 800 have hired lawyers, there have been no reports of lawyers preying on the bereaved.

The manager of the Ramada Inn where most families are staying, Ron Petroski, said he wasn't aware of any mailings or deliveries to the families from lawyers. Bar associations have received no complaints.

Perhaps the lawyers have been kept at bay by the strict security at the hotel. People are checked before entering the hotel, and some areas are off limits to all but the families and essential staff.

"As a practical matter, there's not a chance that a lawyer could get within 100 yards of those people," said Edward Fagan, a New York lawyer who drew complaints when he flew to Colombia in December after the crash of an American Airlines jet. "That's not to say they couldn't go to someone's home, but if they do, shame on them."

The only incident at the Ramada Inn has been a tabloid reporter arrested for entering a restricted area while posing as a relative, said Port Authority spokesman Mark Hatfield.

Lawyers may also have been put on notice by a sting operation that followed the ValuJet crash.

Virtually every state bans lawyers or their representatives from soliciting business in person, and several, including New York and Florida, forbid direct-mail solicitations when they have reason to believe the mental or emotional state of a potential client is compromised.

Still, Florida's law -- one of the toughest in the nation with a 30-day moratorium on soliciting victims -- didn't stop several firms from quickly contacting the families.

To some degree, the efforts backfired when the Florida Bar took the unusual step of going to the hotel and advising families of their rights.

When lawyers hounded the mother of a girl who died in the crash, she joined in an sting operation with the bar associations of Florida, Louisiana and Texas. …