The Truth About 411-Pain and Lawyer Referral Services
Just this morning I was driving in my car listening to local radio (94.1 FM) when a very bizarre advertisement was aired. A non-attorney spokesperson for 411-Pain came on and stated the exact number of licensed members of the Florida Bar, and that “there is only one 411-Pain.” She then alluded to 411-Pain being comprised of an exclusive select group of attorneys. At no point did this non-attorney spokesperson explain that lawyers who opt to become members of 411-Pain must pay a fee to participate and receive cases within the network. Further, she failed to state that lawyers who opt to be members of the 411-Pain network do no possess any special skills or abilities as compared to non-members. The only difference is that the members chose to pay a lawyer referral service to obtain cases.
The average consumer who listens to the above referenced radio advertisement would likely be left with the impression, it must be an honor to be associated with 411-Pain or any analogous lawyer referral service (i.e., 1-800-ASK-GARY). This could not be further from the truth. In 2011, I had a lunch with an individual who described herself as an “attorney liason” for 411-Pain. At no point did I have any interest in joining this group. Rather, I simply took the lunch with a colleague to learn more about the process. She informed us that we would have to pay a fee (I believe it was monthly) and we would receive cases either directed or referred to us by a call center.
There is no special qualities or criteria for an attorney to become a member of the leading lawyer referral services that would separate such individual or lawyer from their counterparts who are non-members. In fact, many members of the Florida Bar frown upon lawyer referral services and believe that organizations like 411-Pain and 1-800-ASK-GARY provide subpar service and mislead consumers with advertising that is considered misleading by many.
The Miami New Times published a very interesting expose on 411-Pain (http://www.miaminewtimes.com/2010-12-09/news/crash-course-411-pain-network-will-line-their-pockets-with-your-insurance-money/), that paints a very unflattering illustration of the origins of this particular lawyer referral service, the principal founding members and a lengthy account of the difficulties that injury victims faced after calling 411-Pain and commencing medical treatment with a clinic associated with the service. The article written by Lisa Rab discussed issues that these same injury victims had with their lawyer/lawfirm who they were referred to by Pain-411.
In June of 2012, the Florida Attorney General’s office settled its lawsuit against the 411-Pain lawyer referral service (http://www.wtsp.com/news/article/257970/19/Pam-Bondi--411-Pain-must-change-ads). In the aforementioned article published by WTSP, I found the following passage “CBS affiliate WKMG investigated 411 Pain earlier this year and found that the hotline was not the "lawyer referral service" it was advertised to be; it was, instead, a pain clinic answering service that would refer victims to attorneys, but would also suggest treatments at its own clinics. The ads suggested victims could get a minimum of $10,000 in personal injury protection (PIP), plus a guarantee of lost wages.”
Further, the investigation by CBS affiliate WKMG found numerous instances where injury victims were left with hefty balances after the pain clinics exhausted the $10,000.00 in available PIP (personal injury protection) coverage. The Orlando sentinel published a more detailed report on the lawsuit against 411-Pain and the subsequent settlement entered into with the Attorney General’s office (http://articles.orlandosentinel.com/2012-06-04/news/os-411-pain-settlement-florida-20120604_1_change-ads-lawyer-services-pain).
Based on the settlement, 411-Pain is prohibited from saying it is referring injury victims to a “specialized attorney.” Thus, I am unsure how the latest advertisement explained above can be compliant with the agreement.
In another current radio advertisement by 411-Pain, a non-attorney spokesperson states that if you fail to seek medical treatment within fourteen (14) days following your automobile accident “it just doesn’t matter.” This is based on changes to Florida’s PIP statute that will go into effect on January 1, 2013. In accordance with the new provisions, an injury victim must commence medical treatment within fourteen (14) days following an auto accident in order for PIP benefits to apply to such treatment. However, the non-attorney spokesperson fails to explain that an injury victim still has a plausible cause of action against the at-fault party even if they fail to seek treatment within the first fourteen (14) days.
411-Pain has no incentive to properly explain this as the medical clinics associated with the lawyer referrals service can no longer bill PIP if the injury victim opts to seek treatment after this fourteen (14) day period. I have personally settled and successfully litigated numerous cases where my client waited a lengthy period of time before they commenced medical treatment. It clearly benefits the case to begin treatment immediately following an accident. However, a claim/case is not destroyed or rendered fruitless due to waiting to commence medical treatment.
I am most interested to learn what the Florida Attorney General’s office and the Florida Bar think of these latest advertisements. The Tampa Tribune published a very interesting article concerning the Florida Bar’s attempts to crack down on lawyer referral services (http://www2.tbo.com/business/breaking-news/2012/may/26/2/lawyer-referral-services-targeted-ar-408199/). I found the following passage in the article penned by Michael Sasso, “A Florida Bar committee has been investigating legal referral services for months. The committee didn't target any service specifically, but the growth of 1-800-Ask-Gary and 411 Pain has spooked some lawyers. Among their biggest concerns is the financial relationship among the lawyers, chiropractors and doctors who belong to them.
One concern is potential conflict of interest. Lawyers have shown up at medical clinics unsolicited to meet accident victims — apparently tipped off by a referral service, said Grier Wells, a Jacksonville lawyer chairing the Bar's committee. Other lawyers might face a legal quandary: Do they have an allegiance to the client or to a medical provider that's part of the accident hotline network?”
It is my opinion that word of mouth is often the most effective form of advertising. We have recently launched some limited radio advertising to expand our presence and brand the name of our law firm. However, I would have no qualms if the Florida Bar banned lawyer advertising altogether. Consumers are routinely misinformed concerning the quality of lawyers in the marketplace. The best attorneys can often rely on word of mouth and referrals from current and former clients. I am not seeking to pain all lawyers associated with lawyer referral services with one brush. In fact, there are some very competent law firms and individual attorneys that are members of such groups. However, it is time for consumers to learn the whole truth about 411-Pain and lawyer referral services in general. A majority of the finest personal injury attorneys in the State are not associated with a lawyer referral service.