Lawyer referral service 411-PAIN first caught the ire of this blog back in late 2010, when Matt Dolman read about an Iraq veteran who was suing the referral giant for a misleading advertising campaign. The veteran was convinced to call 411-PAIN by the barrage of advertisements for the service, and he ended up with a familiar result. Most of his insurance money was funneled into the pockets of the chiropractic clinics owned by 411-PAIN, and the rest ended up in the hands of a lawyer on the service’s “pay-to play” list. As is common in cases involving 411-PAIN, the vet was left with hefty medical bills after the case was over.
We have been hoping for a ban on lawyer referral services like 411-PAIN and 1-800-ASK-GARY for several years now. These services have become increasingly more popular for firms with less of an advertising budget than the giant “mill-type” firms, whose ads are almost as common on Florida television and radio stations as 411-PAIN’s are. There has been abundant coverage of issues associated with 411 pain on this blog.
Despite the obvious problems being created by lawyer referral services, The Florida House and Senate have ignoring the problem and been more focused on making it almost impossible for people to choose the type of medical care that they desire following an accident. Last year, the Florida legislature passed a bill that they claimed would help deter the amount of fraud in personal injury cases. Unfortunately, the bill that they passed targeted the consumer and independent health care providers instead of focusing on referral mills like 411-PAIN that often target individuals who were unlikely to treat medically for injuries. If the legislature was truly sincere in their desire to lower the amount of claims filed by malingerers, then they would have been better served focusing efforts on lawyer referral services. Unfortunately, they chose to adopt an arbitrary fourteen (14) day period for accident victims to commence medical treatment and reduced the availability of insurance benefits to consumers.
Fortunately, where the House and Senate have so greatly failed, the Florida Bar and the Executive arm of our State government have stepped in. Last summer 411-PAIN was fined $550,000.00 for employing false and misleading tactics in their advertisements. Prior to this action, the lawyer referral service had been advertising using images of police officers and promises that accident victims employing their service will get money.
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Additionally, the Supreme Court of Florida also decided to tighten restrictions on lawyer referral services earlier this year. In a new list of rules concerning lawyer advertising, the Supreme Court took the time to officially address some of the problems associated with attorney referral service advertising. Essentially, the Supreme Court rules hold these services to the same standards as actual attorneys. This may seem like a no brainer, but the court had to employ some creativity to achieve this common sense requirement. The rule of professional conduct for lawyers cannot be extended to govern non-lawyers like 411-PAIN and 1-800-ASK-GARY. However, the rules can limit the type of referral services that attorneys can legally and ethically use. So if 411-PAIN, or any other referral service, decides not to follow the rules laid out by the Supreme Court, then any lawyer employing the service is subject to sanctions.
Despite efforts from the Florida Bar, the Florida Executive branch and the Florida Supreme Court, the Florida legislature continues to ignore the lawyer referral service problem. In contrast, Minnesota lawmakers have taken their heads out of the sand and addressed the problems created by 411-PAIN directly. Although the action taken by the Minnesota Legislature is very similar to the action taken by the Florida Bar and the Attorney General’s office last summer, we applaud the fact that the lawmakers addressed the issue themselves. Hopefully Florida’s legislature will take note, and start addressing the problems created by lawyer referral services head on.
What all of this boils down to, is that 411-PAIN and other referral services in Florida are ultimately harming a large number of accident victims that choose to use them. For those employing these services, PIP (Personal Injury Protection) benefits are often quickly consumed by 411-PAIN owned clinics and medical bills skyrocket early in the case. See this Miami New Times article for more information on how 411-PAIN drains the insurance policies of accident victims.
There’s no telling what kind of attorney the auto accident victim will be referred to, or whether the individual will actually get to meet the lawyer at any point. Misinformation has been a tactic used by 411-PAIN and the marketing machine behind it for years, and the most important thing for an accident victim is to be in well informed. In a recent radio commercial, a non-attorney spokesperson states that 411-Pain has spent considerable time cultivating a network of lawyers to fit the needs of the accident victim; at a minimum, this statement is misleading and disingenuous. To become a member of 411-Pain, an attorney simply must pay a fee to join the referral service. Attorneys that are members of this referral service possess no special skills or qualifications as compared to the thousands of Florida personal injury lawyers who have chosen not to become associated with 411-Pain.
I strongly advise any Florida automobile accident victim, to do their research before selecting a lawyer. In fact, such individual would be best served performing internet research on their issue and analyzing the reviews written by fellow consumers of the attorneys they are considering. Becoming well informed is step one for accident victims to take in ensuring that they don’t become victims for a second time.
This article was co-written by Jacob Pillsbury and Matthew Dolman