We have all heard those catchy sing-along ads for lawyer referral services like 411 PAIN. They typically include a memorable hook and a convincing spokesperson making questionable claims. The spokesperson always asserts that by calling their easy-to-remember number, you can be connected with a personal injury attorney who can help you and your family after an auto accident.
Sometimes, the ads even provide a dollar amount. For example, 1-800 Ask Gary ads typically mention that you could receive $10,000 after an auto collision. Are the claims they make true? Can they really guarantee you thousands of dollars? And how do they work anyway? Let’s take a closer look at the growing trend of personal injury lawyer referral services.
What Is 411 PAIN?
In Florida, 1-800-411-PAIN and 1-800 Ask Gary are among the most popular lawyer referral services for injured car accident victims. In effect, their service functions as the middleman between you and a personal injury attorney within their network. They have recently come under scrutiny for their advertising tactics and business practices.
Beware of Act-Fast Claims by Lawyer Referral Services like 411 PAIN
The billboards and TV spots for 411 PAIN—sometimes going by 1 800 PAIN—suggest that you should call 411 immediately after you hang up with 911. They act like it should be a normal part of the process of getting into a car accident.
They hope to inundate you with so much advertising that your brain reflexively follows their instructions after an accident. Their goal is to make calling 1-800-411-PAIN seem like the natural next step after calling 911. But if they really had your best interest in mind, wouldn’t they suggest that you do some research first?
Quite simply, no; they don’t want you to think too much about your decision to call. Instead, they want to catch you in a vulnerable moment. Once you’re on the line, they want to hook you with a commitment, before you know what you’re getting into. You may assume that 411 PAIN or Ask Gary are doing all the work of vetting and matching you with the best-suited car accident lawyer for your claim, but this is not the case.
How Does 411 PAIN Decide Which Attorney Is Best Suited to Handle Your Case?
After seeing the ads, you may be left with the impression that it’s an honor for a personal injury attorney to be associated with 411 PAIN or any other “for-profit” accident referral services. Or that the attorneys that they employ are at the top of the industry. But how does 411 PAIN really decide who they will accept into their “exclusive” network?
411 PAIN and Other For-Profit Lawyer Referral Services Are Not Run by Lawyers
Their ads fail to tell you that the founder, Dr. Lewin, is a chiropractor, not a lawyer. They also don’t tell you that the lawyers who join 411 PAIN pay a monthly fee to receive case referrals. For-profit lawyer referral services like 411 PAIN act as middlemen by taking your call, transferring you to a random attorney, then getting paid. You could accomplish the very same thing by calling the first attorney you find in an internet search.
By calling 411 PAIN, you’re trusting someone in a call center who is neither a licensed attorney nor a physician. Instead, the person answering your call may be fresh out of high school, a part-time college student, or someone with no more knowledge about personal injury claims than yourself.
Once they have you on the line, the operator refers you to whichever attorney is next in line and has paid their monthly fee. That’s the extent of their matchmaking skills. The attorney you end up with may have little or no experience in handling auto collision cases; after all, skills or experience aren’t part of the admissions requirements.
I Met With a Lawyer Referral Service Representative and Learned the Truth
In 2011, I had lunch with an individual who described herself as an “attorney liaison” for 411 PAIN. At no point did I have any interest in joining this group. However, I decided to take lunch with a colleague to get an inside look at the process. She informed us that we would have to pay a monthly fee to receive cases. The cases would either be directed or referred to us by a call center.
Obviously, I was surprised to hear that someone in a call center would be matching clients and attorneys. I guess I thought the lawyer referral service employed in-house specialists to determine the best person for the job. Perhaps that was wishful thinking.
Instead, there are only two qualifications. First, the lawyer must be in the same town as the client. Second, they must be paid up on their fees. This process empowers a random operator, who likely lacks any specialized training, to make decisions that greatly impact you, your family, and the potential value of your legal claim. Don’t trust this “complex” vetting process!
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Do 411 PAIN Attorneys Have Any Special Qualifications?
The short answer is no. You might think that an attorney receiving your case referral has handled hundreds of auto accident claims, but this may not be the case. The only requirement to join 411 PAIN or any other lawyer referral service is to pay the requisite fee.
When your family’s financial future is at stake, you can’t afford to risk losing out on a fair settlement offer because you agreed to have a randomly assigned lawyer to represent you. Don’t depend on a for-profit service to vet a personal injury lawyer for you.
To protect the value of your claim, you should do your own research to find a reputable attorney with a proven record of successfully handling cases like yours. Most reputable personal injury lawyers offer free consultations- take advantage. This is a great way to see what services they offer and get a glimpse of how you can expect to be treated.
The Miami New Times Exposed 411 PAIN’s Treatment of Injured Accident Victims
The Miami New Times published a very interesting exposé on 411 PAIN that reveals an unflattering view of the origins of 411, as well as the principal founding members who have quite a colorful track record. The article, written by Lisa Rab, discusses issues that injury victims had with their 411 PAIN lawyers and law firms.
It details a lengthy account of the difficulties some injury victims faced after calling 411 PAIN. This often included starting medical treatment with one of the clinics associated with the referral service. Some former 411 PAIN clients are even filing a class-action lawsuit based on their treatment. The class action alleges that 411 PAIN engaged in “false advertising, deceptive trade practices, and a civil conspiracy.”
In many instances, the auto accident injury victim never even spoke with their attorney. Others experienced great difficulty in getting ahold of their lawyer. This is usually an indicator that the firm is a personal injury settlement mill. This means the firm takes as many cases as possible to utilize a quantity over quality approach.
Settlement Mills Value Quantity Over Quality
When quantity is the goal, quality goes out the window. This usually applies to firms that use alternative means to gain clients, rather than relying on their experience and skills. These attorneys don’t have to worry about client satisfaction, after all, 411 will be sending them a new client tomorrow. On the other hand, attorneys who depend on recommendations and reputation actually want to please their clients by keeping communication open and getting the biggest settlement possible.
Obviously, I am not saying that all law firms in the 411 PAIN network are mere settlement mills or that they have some dubious agenda. But, the article in the Miami New Times illustrates behavior indicative of lawyers who care more about making a profit than actually contributing to their field.
When I hear complaints from an injury victim that they never met their attorney and phone calls to the law firm consistently went un-returned, red flags go up. If you haven’t met your attorney, or can’t get a hold of them to save your life, it may be time to think about alternative options.
Is 411 PAIN a Scam?
There are many concerns regarding 411 PAIN, Ask Gary, and other legal referral services dating back over a decade. In 2010, the Miami New Times article revealed that Dr. Lewin, the chiropractor owner of 411 PAIN, said that lawyers do not pay any fee to be a part of the 411 PAIN Network. Instead, the doctors and lawyers have “a reciprocal relationship.” This means that in some cases, lawyers refer patients to doctors and vice versa.
An investigation by CBS affiliate WKMG found another disturbing trend. Many injury victims had hefty debts after a 411 PAIN center or 411 PAIN-affiliated clinic exhausted their PIP 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. Based on the settlement, 411-Pain is prohibited from saying it is referring injury victims to a “specialized attorney.”
Florida Bar Association Raises Concerns About Lawyer Referral Service Fraud
As early as 2011, the Florida Bar warned in an article that “Investigators find fraud associated with some lawyer referral services.” The article expresses the concerns of many that “some ads for lawyer and medical referral services mislead by implying victims will get money if they’ve been in accidents. Some encourage those involved in accidents — but not injured — to file meritless claims.”
In 2014, the Florida Bar approved new rules regulating attorneys who accept clients from for-profit lawyer referral services. One recommendation prohibits lawyers from accepting a referral from a service that also referred the client for another professional service, such as medical care. For more information on current Florida laws concerning lawyer referral services, you can consult the most recent Florida statutes.
Florida’s Government Takes Action Against 411 PAIN for Misleading Ads
In 2012, the Florida Attorney General filed a lawsuit against 411 PAIN. A “Stipulated Consent Final Judgment” was entered which provided in part, that “411-PAIN” shall not:
“Use any advertising that promises any specific amount of monetary reward.”
“Make any misrepresentation or mislead an individual to believe that [“411-PAIN”] is directing the consumer to a ‘specialized’ attorney, leading consumers to believe they are being referred by [“411-PAIN”] to an attorney who specializes in the type of injury or accident they have sustained, regardless of the area in which the attorney specializes.”
Additionally, the “Stipulated Consent Final Judgment” from the 411-Pain lawsuit ordered “411-PAIN” to
- “Modify any websites and all other online advertising … utilizing a “Find a Lawyer” section or equivalent service to reflect only currently licensed lawyers and not doctors or chiropractors or other individuals who are not licensed to practice law …”
- Pay $75,000 in attorney and investigative fees
- Make a $550,000 donation to the Broward Health Foundation and the Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital Foundation
The Florida Bar, journalists, and Florida government officials are not the only ones to raise concerns about 411 PAIN’s business practices.
Insurance Company Accuses 411 PAIN of Fraud
Just after Thanksgiving in 2017, GEICO filed a $15,000,000 lawsuit against 411 PAIN. It also listed the owners of 411 PAIN, as well as lawyers and doctors who work with 411 PAIN. GEICO alleges that 411 PAIN, its parent company Path Medical, and its owner Robert Lewin all conspired to fraudulently scam GEICO out of millions of dollars by violating a plethora of laws, embellishing medical codes, and charging for services they never performed.
GEICO claims that 411 PAIN and its affiliates concocted an elaborate scheme to create an illegal revolving door in which each company would send a patient around to each provider, all or most of which were owned by Path Medical. This “business model” is highly illegal in the medical and legal industries.
GEICO Claims 411 PAIN Abused Florida’s No-Fault Insurance Policy
GEICO claims that 411 PAIN violated Florida’s laws regarding the patient brokering act (the “Patient Brokering Act” Fla. Stat § 817.505); Florida’s anti-kickback statute (the “Anti-Kickback Statute” Fla. Stat. §456.054); Florida’s Patient Self-Referral Act (the “Self-Referral Act” Fla. Stat. § 456.053); the Florida Health Care Clinic Act, (the “Clinic Act” Fla. Stat. § 400.990 et seq. ); and Florida law regulating advertising by chiropractors (the “Chiropractor Advertising Laws” Fla. Stat. § 460.413, F.A.C. Rule 64B2-15.001 ).
The lawsuit claims that the named Defendants wrongly obtained from GEICO “fraudulent no-fault personal injury protection (PIP) insurance charges… relating to medically unnecessary, illusory, unlawful, and otherwise unreimbursable health care services”.
These services included “initial examinations, follow-up examinations, diagnostic imaging, and physical therapy, and chiropractic services, that purportedly were provided to automobile accident victims who were eligible for coverage under GEICO Florida no-fault insurance policies.” Additionally, GEICO requested that $200,000 in pending payments be deemed null and void.
411 PAIN Faces Numerous Complaints
As the Florida Bar and others have suggested, the members of 411 PAIN often encourage injury victims to seek recovery therapy through chiropractors who have also paid a fee to be a part of the same referral network. This creates an inherent conflict of interest. Attorneys may advise someone to seek treatment that is either not necessary or that is disproportionate to the accident. When a lawyer and a chiropractor are in the same network, they may have incentives to refer their clients to each other.
Using 411 PAIN Can Jeopardize the Quality of Care You Receive
This reciprocal network can be dangerous to patients for two reasons. Either patients who need a specialized type of treatment don’t get the care they need and instead are sent to a chiropractor, or they get sent to a chiropractor and didn’t receive any type of treatment.
Furthermore, the same lawyer and chiropractor may avoid sending the patient to a specialist like a physical medicine specialist or orthopedic surgeon until the PIP (personal injury protection) benefits are used up. Several victims who utilized 411 PAIN to retain an attorney allege that their assigned lawyer encouraged them to receive medical treatment over and over and failed to state that the majority of the settlement proceeds would be used to pay the accumulated medical bills.
411 PAIN’s Services May Lead You to Decimate Your PIP Benefits
Sadly, the longer you receive medical treatment, the more PIP can be billed by the doctors until the $10,000.00 benefit amount is exhausted. This is the $10,000 that lawyer referral service advertisements used to refer to (they only stopped because they were forced to).
Those ads would claim that victims could receive up to $10,000 in medical benefits. This clearly implied the victim would get the money. Instead, what happens is that money goes to the doctors to pay for their services. This is also why the lawyers and chiropractors had a vested interest in treating until the bill reached this amount.
That begs the question, is 411 PAIN willing to send their clients to the best healthcare professional for their case? Or do they simply refer them to a member of their physician network, even if they weren’t the best fit? 411 PAIN has dealt with specific chiropractors who provide services to accident victims outside areas where they have clinics. Who determines whether this chiropractor is the best physician to suit your medical needs?
Many Lawyer Referral Services Want You to Drain Your PIP Benefits
Using the full value of your $10,000 in PIP benefits is not at all an inherently bad thing. This system allows injured people to get the medical care they need without having to worry about fault. This expedites the process and ensures that doctors are getting paid and injured victims are getting the care they need.
The issue is, some attorneys who belong to lawyer referral services aren’t encouraging clients to use their benefits wisely. Instead, they may try and rush them into repeated treatment, needlessly maxing out their PIP. In some cases, the treatment might be completely unnecessary except to benefit doctors in their network.
Why Does 411 PAIN Pressure Clients to “Act Fast”?
In 2013, Florida made an important change to its PIP statute. Injury victims were now required to start medical treatment within 14 days following an accident for PIP benefits to apply. Although 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 14 days, the 411 PAIN ads do not mention this.
The reason for this is that 411 PAIN medical clinics cannot bill PIP if the injury victim seeks treatment after the time period has expired, which is why they push for you to call immediately. Lawyer referral services are in the business of PIP, not personal injury. Their goal is seemingly to send as many clients as possible to as many lawyers as possible and settle quickly.
If your case is more complicated than a few visits to a chiropractor, contact an experienced professional. This also applies if you’ve waited more than 14 days to seek treatment. Dolman Law Group has settled numerous cases where clients delayed treatment after an accident. Despite what some lawyer referral services may insinuate, all hope is not lost. We recommend seeing a medical professional as soon as you can to avoid creating issues with the insurance company.
411-Pain May Have Significant Conflicts of Interest
The potential for a conflict of interest continues to be a problem for 411-Pain and other referral services. According to Grier Wells, a Jacksonville lawyer chairing the Florida Bar’s committee: “Lawyers have shown up at medical clinics unsolicited to meet accident victims — apparently tipped off by a referral service. 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?”
Relationship Between 411 PAIN, Lawyers, and Doctors Raises Concerns
This is quite a scary proposition. Dolman Law Group has helped many clients who found their prior lawyer through a referral service. Unfortunately, many of these clients were pushed into extensive treatment with a chiropractor by said attorney.
Oftentimes, the lawyer failed to explain their relationship with the lawyer referral service. They would avoid disclosing that their law firm and the physician paid to be a member of the same network. If the client failed to show up for treatment, both the lawyer and chiropractor would call them on the very same day asking where they were. It obviously appeared that the attorney and chiropractor were working together and in close contact.
In case it’s not clear, this is far from ethical. Patients have the right to get unbiased advice from the people they are paying. When you hire an attorney, you expect them to protect your interests rather than for their own agenda.
It’s supposed to be a mutual relationship (you get sound legal advice and services and the attorney gets paid based on performance). But when you mix another party or two parties into the mix, interests get conflicted very fast.
How Should Personal Injury Lawyers Advertise Their Services in Florida?
In my opinion, word-of-mouth is the most effective form of advertising. In fact, I would have no qualms if the Florida Bar banned lawyer advertising altogether. Of course, I do advertise in some form; I have a website, business cards, and two modest billboards. But when attorneys produce commercial after commercial, there is a reason that they need that kind of exposure.
If they were running an experienced and upstanding business, clients would come to them of their own volition. The culture of legal advertising in Florida has routinely misinformed consumers about the quality of lawyers in the marketplace. I believe the best attorneys often rely on reputation and referrals from current and former clients. That’s why I, and a majority of the elite personal injury lawyers in the Tampa Bay area, do not belong to a lawyer referral service.
Let me be clear: I am not seeking to paint all lawyers associated with lawyer referral services with one brush. There are some competent law firms and individual attorneys that are members of such groups. However, it’s time for consumers to learn the truth about 411 PAIN, 1800-Ask-Gary, and other for-profit lawyer referral services.
How Do I Choose a Good Personal Injury Lawyer?
I strongly recommend that car accident victims thoroughly research their options prior to selecting a personal injury attorney. Further, one should not select a lawyer based solely on an advertisement. In this case, it’s not even a lawyer who is advertising their services. Rather, the services are being advertised by a referral service through a non-attorney spokesperson.
Why would you trust a non-attorney spokesperson with your legal needs? Unfortunately, such individuals are not accountable to the Florida Bar. Hence, the “for profit” referral services can make grand claims in their commercials and no one can hold their feet to the proverbial fire (although this is slowly changing as the need for regulation becomes so blatant).
Before selecting an attorney, you should research the lawyer’s qualifications and experience:
- Do they routinely litigate against various insurance carriers or are they a settlement mill?
- How often does the firm take cases to trial and how often do they just settle to get the case over with?
- Is the firm properly staffed? Do they have the financial resources to see your case through to the finish?
- Is the law firm a volume shop or do they do quality work?
- Has the lawyer received awards and recognition for their work from peers or third-party reviewers?
Don’t select a lawyer merely off an advertisement. And please don’t take auto accident advice from a non-attorney spokesperson. Both you and your legal claim against the other driver are too important. Your family is counting on you to obtain the best legal representation that you can and you will not find it with 411 PAIN or another legal referral service.
Remember, non-attorney spokespeople should not be trusted with your legal needs. Unfortunately, such individuals are not accountable to the Florida Bar. Hence, the “for-profit” referral services can make grand claims in their commercials and it’s difficult for anyone to hold their feet to the proverbial fire.
Excellent Web Resources for Finding the Best Personal Injury Lawyer
I’ve mentioned a few times in this article that you should research a lawyer yourself before you hire them. So for that reason, here are the top lawyer review sites in Florida, plus the ever-popular Google review. Check out my reviews, reputation, and awards from each one by clicking on the links below:
avvo.com – 97% of US lawyers are rated by AVVO
SuperLawyers.com – Super Lawyers is a rating service for outstanding lawyers who have attained a high degree of peer recognition and professional achievement.
Google Review– The mother of all rating systems.
Case Results – Also, take a moment to view some of the cases we’ve handled in the past.
Why Choose Dolman Law Group to Represent Your Claim?
If you have been seriously injured in an accident, you need someone trustworthy to prioritize your needs, not their wallet. Once you call Dolman Law Group, we will connect you with one of our qualified, experienced attorneys who specializes in your particular area of need instead of randomly assigning you to the next available lawyer.
Our attorneys are distinguished by their diligent work ethic, outstanding character, and results-driven approach. We have successfully settled a variety of claims for our injured clients, ranging from car and motorcycle accidents to medical malpractice and sexual abuse claims. This has made us one of the most respected personal injury law firms in Florida.
At Dolman Law Group, we have the resources and expertise to take on powerful insurance companies. We will analyze evidence and witness testimony, review medical records and third-party reports, draft statements to the insurance company, calculate the value of your damages, and persistently negotiate on your behalf to secure you a fair settlement.
Dolman Law Group Has a Proven Record of Excellence
I’ve mentioned a few times in this article that you should research a lawyer yourself before you hire them. Dolman Law Group makes our clients’ reviews accessible to you so that you can read first-hand accounts of what our former clients have to say about our services and the character of our firm.
At Dolman Law Group, we pride ourselves on providing comprehensive, compassionate service. Our injured accident clients know they’ll be treated with respect and dignity. You don’t have to worry about paying us a single dollar unless we have successfully settled your claim for damages.
We encourage you to take a look at our case results as an example of what we are capable of doing. Our goal is to recover the maximum amount of compensation you are eligible for so that you can pay off medical debt, balance your family budget, and recover invisible costs like pain and suffering.
Contact Dolman Law Group for Help With Your Personal Injury Claim
If you or a loved one suffered an injury because of another party’s negligence, you may be entitled to compensation. Civil law allows those injured under circumstances that should have been avoided had a party not been negligent to file a personal injury lawsuit to recover damages.
The lawyers of Dolman Law Group have proven ourselves as successful advocates for injured clients in negotiations and in court. We won’t hesitate to go up against a powerful insurance company to recover the true value of short and long-term medical costs, decreased future earning potential, and other costs that may be attributable to another party’s negligence.
Don’t risk your claim by using a questionable lawyer referral service. Get an expert personal injury accident attorney straight from the source. Dolman Law Group has years of experience in protecting the rights of injured accident victims in and around the Clearwater area. Call 866-481- 5347 today or fill out a contact form to schedule your free consultation with an experienced, dedicated personal injury attorney.
*The above information was written and reviewed by either Attorney Matthew Dolman or another injury lawyer at the Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA which has a combined 90 plus years of experience practicing Florida personal injury law. Matthew Dolman himself has been practicing personal injury law in Clearwater and St. Petersburg for the last fifteen (15) years. The information provided comes from extensive research and years of experience trying legal cases in courtrooms throughout Florida. SEO and content creation for this article by Jordan Puckett.