Two Ohio lawyers sue for access to lists of workers' comp claimants, claim First Amendment violation
Two Ohio lawyers claim in a federal lawsuit that their First Amendment right to advertise is violated by the state’s ban on soliciting workers’ compensation claimants and the state’s refusal to provide claimant lists.
Ohio law makes it a misdemeanor to solicit representation of workers’ compensation claimants and to access claimants’ files, according to the suit. A regulation also provides that lawyers who solicit claimants could be barred from practicing before state commissions providing benefits to injured workers.
An exception allows journalists to obtain the names and addresses of workers’ compensation claimants. The Bevan firm obtains claimant lists “through an arrangement with a journalist,” and uses the lists to send bulk mail advertising to claimants.
The mailings, containing the salutation “to whom it may concern,” say injured workers may not be knowledgeable about the workers compensation system and may not obtain all of the awards they may be due. The mailing warns that “time may be running out on your claim(s)!”
The suit says the Ohio Attorney General’s office served grand jury subpoenas in February on the journalist who provides the names and addresses to the law firm, as well as a company affiliated with the journalist and a bulk mail services company.
“The investigative activity,” which is based on the Ohio law, “has had the effect of curtailing the plaintiffs’ legitimate advertising activity and chilling the exercise of their First Amendment right to engage in protected commercial speech,” the suit says.
A lawyer who represents Bevan and Walsh, Ralph Breitfeller, told the Columbus Dispatch that Ohio’s law appears to be one of the most stringent in the nation. “I’m not aware of another statute like this,” Breitfeller said.