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Judge nixes move to dismiss class action vs lawyer accused of using crash reports to market to new clients

By Jonathan Bilyk | Jul 29, 2015

Car accident1

A Chicago personal injury lawyer specializing in litigation involving motor vehicle accidents will need to answer allegations he violated federal privacy laws in allegedly using personal information on police traffic accident reports to solicit potential new clients, after a federal judge declined to dismiss a class action lawsuit against him over the alleged business practices.

Earlier this year, Antonio and Karen Pavone sued the Law Offices of Anthony Mancini, of Chicago, alleging attorney Mancini and his firm had violated the federal Driver’s Privacy Protection Act.

The case centers on a letter the Pavones alleged they received from Mancini about a week after they were involved in a traffic accident in Schaumburg on Jan. 15, 2015. The letter, which asked them to hire Mancini to represent them in any litigation or claims surrounding the accident, allegedly included an unredacted copy of the traffic crash report prepared by investigating police officers. That report included their names and personal information, as well as that of their minor son.

The Pavones said the letter, and in particular the report with the personal information, left them “shocked and dismayed, very concerned their personal information and that of their child had been transmitted to someone they did not know and used to solicit them for legal representation.”

Initially, the Pavones brought the complaint individually. However, in March it was made a class action, as the Pavones, through their attorneys, alleged Mancini’s actions in their case was a standard part of his firm’s strategy for landing new clients. They alleged Mancini “obtains motor vehicle records … on a daily or weekly basis … in bulk for a fee” to mail advertisements and solicitation letters to people involved in the crashes reported.

The complaint indicates the Pavones’ attorneys believe the number of people who might have received such solicitations numbers “in the hundreds if not thousands.”

The complaint requests damages of at least $2.500 per plaintiff and class member, plus punitive damages.

The Pavones are represented in the action by attorney Roger Zamparo Jr., of the Zamparo Law Group, of Rolling Meadows, and attorneys James A. Francis and John Soumilas, of the firm of Francis & Mailman, of Philadelphia.

In moving to dismiss the case, Mancini had argued the complaint should fail “because crash reports do not constitute ‘personal information’” under the Driver’s Privacy law. He further argued crash reports are not “motor vehicle records,” as mentioned in the federal law.

U.S. District Judge Matthew F. Kennelly, however, disagreed, saying, while the law may exempt information about crashes from protection, it does not exempt “personal information” listed in the crash reports. That information could include the names of people involved in the crashes, as well as their addresses and driver identification numbers.

The judge said precedent has held these requirements were put in place to protect those involved in crashes and listed in crash reports from stalkers, as well as to “protect against the states’ common practice of selling personal information to businesses engaged in direct marketing and solicitation.”

Kennelly conceded crash reports are not necessarily true “motor vehicle records,” akin to vehicle registrations and drivers license records.

But he said the law protects information that is “obtained from a motor vehicle record.” In this case, the judge said, the Pavones have “plausibly alleged that the information listed on the crash reports came from motor vehicle records produced by (Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White’s office.)”

“Even if that information is not directly supplied by the Secretary of State, it is plausible that officers who write the crash reports copy the name, license number and address from the driver’s license, which is a motor vehicle record,” Kennelly wrote.

The judge ordered Mancini to reply to the Pavones’ complaint by Aug. 13. A status hearing has been scheduled on the matter for Aug. 20.

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