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Cutting edge ‘virtual’ law firm in hot water over ambulance-chasing Alton Towers tweet

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Solicitors quickly ditch social media bid to pick up work in wake of Staffordshire amusement park disaster

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A group of lawyers is today licking its wounds after discovering that no matter how cutting edge you think you are, you can still balls it up monster time on social media.

Broad Yorkshire Law is one of the new breed of “virtual” law firms, which sounds very “Blade Runner”. But in fact all it means is that instead of schlepping to an office every day, the lawyers perch at home in front of computers, probably not even changing out of dressing gowns and pants.

Virtual law firms conduct the vast majority of their business on-line, forsaking bricks and mortar as so yesterday. Therefore, it is easy to see why the top dogs at a virtual might reckon they have a firm grip on social media.

Think again.

Broad found itself on the sharp end of social and conventional media vitriol following its tweet in the wake of this week’s Alton Towers rollercoaster disaster.

The practice — which bills itself has having been launched by managing director, Lois Bayliss, “to ensure she could realise her dream to give clients what they wanted from their local law firm” — pumped out a message yesterday to anyone injured in the accident. The implication was — we’re top personal injury lawyers, so let’s get suing.

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It doesn’t take too much reflection time to conclude that the tweet — complete with excited exclamation marks — was on the wrong side of the sensitivity line. Not least as it has been reported today that one victim has had a leg amputated as result of the accident on the Smiler ride and others remain seriously ill.

In the face of somewhat predictable outrage, the firm — which is headquartered in Sheffield — has binned the tweet and issued a humble apology. And within the last hour or so, Bayliss issued a Facebook statement saying: “As the director of Broad Yorkshire Law, I extend my sincere apologies for any offence caused to anyone and our thoughts go out to the victims of the accident and their families.”

Still, such social media faux pas have a way of raising wider points. First, is there any scope for a niche practice area of amusement park PI law, albeit conducted more sensitively?

Alton Towers itself seems to present relatively rich pickings for lawyers aiming to specialise. Eleven years ago, about 80 punters had to be rescued from the Sky ride when cables became jammed.

In 2006, dozens of trippers were reportedly injured in an incident that saw the Runaway Mine Train ride closed for a season. And two years ago, back on the Smiler, a rider was injured when hit by a loosened wheel casing.

There have also been a series of fires at the Staffordshire theme park. But it is by no means the only UK fun fair to have problems.

In 2011, 22 punters had to be rescued from the Surf Rider at Botton’s Amusement Park at Skegness. That same year, an unfortunate granny lost her legs in an accident on the Jungle River Log Flume at Bridlington Bayside Fun Park.

And while Broad Yorkshire Law’s tweeted bid to drum up work is now seen as crass ambulance chasing, there may come a time when that sort of law firm social media advertising in the wake of various incidents becomes routine.

Read the firm’s statement in full below:

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