Lawyer Referral services are Again Ignored by the Florida Legislature Focusing on Insurance Reform.
LEGISLATION PASSED BY BOTH THE HOUSE AND SENATE FAILS TO ADDRESS POTENTIALLY THE BIGGEST PROBLEM IN THIS STATE.
On Friday, both the State House and Senate passed legislation that amends Florida’s present PIP no-fault system. Governor Rick Scott labeled PIP reform his foremost goal this legislative session and succeeded in pressuring several senators to support a bill that appears to be an insurance company wish list and punintative in nature against Chiropractors as a whole. Governor Scott operated under the guise that PIP and tort reform was essential in curbing the insurance fraud, which has grown pandemic in Florida. Governor Scott and his constituents have alleged that staged accidents and fraudulent billing practices by medical practitioners treating auto accident victims have resulted in increased premiums and negatively impacts all Florida consumers.
I find the bill to be a half-hearted effort at curbing fraud and greatly limits the consumers’ right to pick their physician and seek treatment following an auto accident or motorcycle wreck. We saw Jeff Atwater (Florida’s Chief Financial Officer) speak out publically against lawyer referral services and some of the lee than honorable tactics employed by entities such as 411 Pain and 1-800 Ask Gary in referring clients to medical providers they have a for profit relationship with. There have been numerous stories in recent months regarding the relationship between 1-800 Ask Gary and Physicians Group, LLC., and the allegation raised in several lawsuits that consumers who called the lawyer referral hotline were directed by 1-800 Ask Gary to an attorney who in turn referred the auto accident victim to Physicians Group, LLC. for medical treatment. The consumers alleged that neither -800 Ask Gary nor the attorney/law firm disclosed the relationship between 1-800 Ask Gary and Physicians Group, LLC.
A recent story http://www.clickorlando.com/news/State-leaders-probing-accident-referral-services-like-411-Pain/-/1637132/8776776/-/k2sryn/-/index.html1
published in the online site for WKMG-6 of Orlando sheds light on similar complaints aired by consumers who relied on 411 Pain as a medical and lawyer referral service following an auto accident. Author Steven Cooper, sheds light on the plight of Jazmill Rodriguez who was injured last summer in an automobile accident in Deltona, Florida. She called 411 Pain for advice on how to proceed following her car accident. 411 Pain sent her to an attorney who directed her to a medical clinic named Florida Injury where a Paralegal not an attorney met her. Both the clinic and law firm advised the injury victim to treat for ten consecutive days at Florida Injury Clinic and then was advised by both parties to treat three to four times a week thereafter. Rodriguez alleges that the law firm waited until she had incurred over $15,000.00 in medical bills with Florida Injury Clinic before alerting her that the at-fault party lacked bodily injury coverage and therefore there was no case.
This is disturbing for a number of reasons. The law firm could have easily obtained a verbal on coverage within the first few days following the wreck. In some rare instances my firm is unsuccessful in obtaining a verbal on coverage. However, a competent personal injury attorney will immediately send out a letter of representation to the applicable insurance carriers and will (with some very limited exceptions) obtain all lines of relevant insurance coverage and policy limits within thirty (30) days and generally much sooner. In other words, there likely is not a legitimate reason for why it would take this long to obtain proper insurance coverage. Even more troubling is that business records illustrate a clear relationship between Pain 411 and Florida Injury Clinic, which neither party disclosed to Ms. Rodriguez. Unfortunately for Ms. Rodriguez she first learned of the lack of insurance coverage for the at-fault party and available recourse when the physician’s office had already billed all personal injury protection benefits available. The question is whether the lawyer purposely sat on the case so the physician could bill for all available personal injury protection benefits before letting the client know that no recover was available via the at-fault party. Rodriguez is now left with $5000.00 in medical bills and her personal injury protection benefits have been exhausted.
In another case discussed by Steven Cooper, Maria and Jessica Velez called Pain 411 and were immediately referred to an attorney who referred the women to Florida Injury Clinic for treatment. Maria Velez states an employee of Florida Injury clinic informed her that she must treat for three to four months before she could start a case. Ms. Velez informed the attorney that they both felt better and stopped going when they no longer experienced pain. In turn, the attorney urged both women to get back in and continue treatment if they wanted to pursue a case. This advice was provided in spite of the fact such attorney was aware neither woman was in pain and they both felt better.
According to the above referenced article an investigation has been launched by Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, into the practices of 411 Pain and potential violations of Florida’s Unfair and Deceptive Trade Act. I would imagine that the examples noted above happen far more than the general public is aware of. If Governor Scott is truly worried about rising insurance premiums and abuse of Florida PIP insurance benefits, he should commission a study on how much in the way of PIP benefits are paid out each year to injury victims treating at a clinic associated with 1-800 Ask Gary and 411 Pain. In turn, audit many of these claimants and determine whether they ever told their physician or attorney that they were no longer in pain during the initial two months of treatment. It would be interesting to learn how often such injury victims were encouraged by either a physician or attorney to continue to obtain treatment when the client/patient reported no longer being in pain. Thus, how often are these medical practitioners submitting bills for treatment that is known not to be necessary or reasonable. How much in the way of medical bills is being paid out year by Florida insurance carriers for unnecessary treatment. How does such actions not constitute insurance fraud? I would assume that it is much easier to paint all chiropractors with one brush as opposed to taking on lawyer referral services and the law firms associated with such entities. The financial muscle that can be flexed by 1-800 Ask Gary, 411 Pain and the political connections and weight they wield makes targeting Chiropractors much easier and makes Governor Scott very transparent.
Matthew Dolman is a Florida auto accident attorney and Tampa Bay traumatic brain injury lawyer. Dolman Law Group is a Florida personal injury law firm based in Clearwater, Florida. Located in central Pinellas County, Dolman Law Group is accessible to injury victims located in St. Petersburg and Tampa. The attorneys at Dolman Law Group have no affiliation with any lawyer referral service.
For more information on personal injury law or what to do if you have been injured in a Florida auto accident, please contact Dolman Law Group at: (727) 451-6900.