Recently, a client asked me when they would receive their $10,000 in personal injury protection (PIP) money that 411-PAIN promised them; it was the third time in two weeks I had heard something similar.
This question and others like it, always spur a similar conversation:
Me: “What do you know about your Florida PIP insurance benefits?”
Client: “Just that 411-PAIN says that I get a minimum of $10,000 and that I’m guaranteed payment for my lost wages.”
There has been a variety of problems with the advertising that 411-PAIN uses to convince unsuspecting accident victims to use their service. Further, it’s the confusing, often incorrect, information that the service disseminates that is most appalling to me.
As it turns out, Attorney General Pam Bondi agrees with that sentiment. In June 2012, the Attorney General filed a lawsuit against 411-PAIN to punish the company for calling itself a “lawyer referral service” and for unfair and deceptive trade practices. Much of Ms. Bondi’s disdain came from the 411-PAIN ads suggesting that victims could get a minimum of $10,000 and work-loss benefits.
In order to clear up the misconceptions, here’s a list of why the Attorney General and I dislike these ads so much.
1. Claim: 411-PAIN is a lawyer referral service.
Fact: 411-PAIN is a pain clinic answering service that aggressively suggests that accident victims use it’s pain facilities. These facilities, at times, exhaust all of the victim’s benefits and leave the client with such a lofty balance of medical bills that no lawyer will take the case. Most people don’t know this when they call 411-PAIN, but the service is actually owned by a chiropractor, Robert Cash Lewin. His 411-PAIN network includes 36 medical clinics and about 100 attorneys in Florida who pay him to get cases. There is no vetting by the client, no research. The client’s case is simply handed to a person who paid for their case. For-profit, lawyer referral services have existed in Florida since the 1980s, but only recently began drumming up controversy when they started aggressively advertising to consumers with misleading claims. Check out this article which explains the broader issues with 411-PAIN.
2. Claim: Accident victims get a minimum of $10,000 in personal injury protection (PIP), plus a guarantee of lost wages.
Fact: The Florida PIP statute require that insurance companies include a provision that will pay for at least 80% of the first $10,000.00 in medical expenses that a person injured in an auto accident incurs. Most (not all) policies also include a provision requiring the insurance company to pay 60% of the accident victim’s lost wages due to the accident, but the wage-loss benefits are counted against the $10,000.00 in medical benefits. This, by no means, is a guarantee. And the money doesn’t go to the injured person directly, instead it’s paid to the medical provider who treated the injured person after the accident. 411-PAIN advertising misleads consumers into believing that they will receive the $10,000 directly into their pocket. Of course, this is not the case. And since the medical providers recommended by lawyer referral services are often owned by the same company, this money is funneled into their profits.
3. Claim: 411-PAIN refers victims to “specialized attorneys”.
Fact: 411-PAIN charges attorneys a fee to be included on their list of referrals. The only special qualification is that the attorney be willing and able to pay 411-PAIN’s fee. In a past advertisement, 411-Pain’s non-attorney spokesperson, states that “any attorney can advertise, but not any attorney can be a part of the 411-Pain network.” The spokesperson goes on to state that 411-Pain has spent many years cultivating a network to ensure their roster of lawyers meets their client’s needs. This is nothing more than a twist on the truth, and misleading at a minimum. Further, I believe this violates the settlement agreement that 411-Pain entered into with the Attorney General’s office. An unsophisticated consumer would likely infer that the attorneys who are not members of 411-Pain lack a specific skill or quality, and that is the reason why they are not members of this so-called “exclusive” lawyer referral service. In reality, any attorney can become a member if they are willing to pay the monthly fee, provided that 411-Pain has not filled up their quota for that specific geographic area. Further, a majority of the elite attorneys in Tampa, Clearwater, St. Petersburg, Bradenton, Sarasota, Orlando, Ft. Lauderdale, West Palm Beach, Miami and other Florida municipalities are not members of 411-Pain. In fact, it could be argued that attorneys who gain their clients from trust, research, and credentials are more qualified than those that have to pay for their cases.
4. Claim: Police and medical professionals recommend that consumers call 411-PAIN.
Fact: According to the complaint filed in Broward Circuit Court, 411-PAIN unlawfully misled consumers into believing that real police officers and emergency service workers were recommending that consumers call 411-PAIN after calling 911. They did this by running TV and radio ads in which actors, dressed as police officers and EMTs, came on the screen and urged consumers to call 411-PAIN after calling 911. They did this without making clear that the officers were paid actors and not real emergency service workers. Because of this misleading and cheating behavior, the court ordered 411-PAIN to pay a charitable donation to Broward Health Foundation and to Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital for $275,000 each. (After this public issue with misleading commercials, 411-PAIN began running ads in attempt to clear up its image.)
The answer is: no, in our opinion, you shouldn’t. When hiring an attorney, it’s important that you meet your potential counsel face-to-face and make an educated decision about whether you are selecting the best attorney for your case. Don’t trust non-attorney spokespeople or some person in a call center to make decisions for you.
At the Dolman Law Group we are up front with our clients about how the case will move forward. We explain the way that PIP insurance law actually works, and take the time to meet with our clients, face-to-face. Just remember 411-PAIN is nothing more than a referral service and its members are not “exclusive” by any means.
At Dolman Law, we pride ourselves on not being associated with any lawyer referral service. Further, a majority of our business is referred to our firm by former and current clients. Thankfully, we do not need to rely on a referral service for business.
For more information regarding 411-pain and lawyer referral services in general; please check out the following articles: