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Consumer Beware: Non-Attorney Spokespeople Giving Legal Advice

Personal Injury Lawyer in Florida

You’ve heard it over and over again on TV and radio: “I’m (insert name here) and I’m a non-attorney spokesperson for 411-Pain” or “As a non-attorney spokesperson for 1-800-Ask-Gary, I can tell you…” These 411 Pain commercials are so common that everyone in the Tampa Bay area can recite 411 Pain’s jingle from memoryJust recently, I had a client tell me that when he was in the hospital, he kept hearing the 411-pain song repeat in his head. Their advertising is aggressive and inescapable. And there’s a reason for it.

411-PAIN hires what are called “non-attorney spokespeople” to star in their commercials. They are often well-spoken, good looking, and either funny or representative of a person-of-authority. They are specifically selected and designed to make the general public like and/or trust them.

These non-attorney spokespeople come on the TV or radio and tell you, ‘after an auto accident you should call 411 Pain right away.’ They say that they can help you because they’re a lawyer referral service, implying they have special access to expert attorneys. They don’t.

They tell you, “After 911, call 411.” This sounds like they are giving you the sound advice to call 911 right away (which is good advice), but what they are really doing is tricking you into making a rash decision about what attorney will represent you. It’s nearly impossible to properly research a qualified injury attorney 20 seconds after you get off the phone with the 911 operator. They also understand that if they can get you to call them immediately—by pretending like calling 411-PAIN is the next logical step in the accident process—then they have a better chance of tricking you into using their services.

After all, most people don’t know how deceptive these lawyer-referral services are. Nor do they understand the truth behind these companies, which is:

  • They do not use only experienced attorneys;
  • The attorneys they do use must pay in order to be referred clients;
  • And, the referral service is owned by the chiropractic company that will be receiving your financial settlement.

It must be made clear: it is not the consumer’s fault for being deceived by these companies. These companies have spent millions of dollars, and countless hours and resources, to understand how best to trick people into calling them.

Investigative journalists have looked into what companies like 411-PAIN and 1-800-ASK-GARY really are. Many of these professional journalists have classified these companies as answering services for pain clinics. These clinics routinely run up a patient’s bills and exhaust the Personal Injury Protection (PIP) coverage rather quickly. This often leaves accident victims in a position where they are at the end of their PIP coverage and all they’ve received is an inadequate treatment for their injuries.

These facts are compounded by the misinformation that 411 pain commercials disseminate. In addition to the catchy jingles and mind-numbing song lyrics, the commercials feature a non-attorney spokesperson making sweeping statements that may be misinterpreted by consumers. For example, in a recent commercial, a spokesperson references the exact amount of attorneys who are licensed with the Florida Bar. Then they state,[but] there is only one 411-pain.” A consumer could be forgiven for inferring the wrong idea and potentially assuming that being a member of 411-PAIN connotes a skill set that other attorneys do not possess. [Source]

When the Florida Office of the Attorney General sued 411-PAIN, they listed in the lawsuit the following grievances:

  • Defendant, through its advertising, misrepresents to consumers that they could be entitled up to $100,000.00 or more for injuries and lost…[and]…admonished consumers by radio and television advertisements not to make what could be a “million dollar mistake.”
  • Defendant, through its advertising, also states and/or implies consumers can obtain more than $10,000.00 in Personal Injury Protection (“PIP“) benefits or compensation for the injuries and loss wages they sustained.
  • Defendant’s use of individuals in its advertising who are dressed as police officers, without clearly and conspicuously stating the individual in the advertisement is a “Paid Actor” is misleading consumers to believe the individual is an actual police officer.
  • In its advertising, Defendant misrepresents that a law enforcement or a municipal official is directing or mandating the consumer to contact Defendant immediately after contacting 911 and/or other emergency services.
  • Defendant misrepresents and misleads consumers to believe that Defendant directs or refers the consumer to a “qualified” attorney or “specialized” attorney, leading consumers to believe they are being referred by Defendant to an attorney who specializes in the type of injury or accident they have sustained.
  • Defendant misrepresents to consumers that Defendant has physicians on staff who specialize in certain areas of medicine.
  • Defendant misrepresents through advertising that there is an absolute guarantee consumers will obtain monetary compensation for lost wages.
  • Defendant uses testimonials in its advertising that is not actual testimonials received by consumers who have utilized Defendant’s service. See Exhibit “C”.
  • Defendant frequently targets minorities and sponsor events m minority or unrepresented communities.
  • Defendant continues to persist in committing the acts and practices described above and consumers will continue to be harmed if Defendant’s behavior is not stopped.
  • The acts and practices of Defendant described above are unfair, deceptive and unconscionable, and constitute a violation of FDUTPA.

[The entire lawsuit and settlement can be viewed in this PDF.]

The final judgment in the case barred the companies from advertising any specific amount of monetary reward or lost wages; using a dollar amount in any advertising that promises more than $10,000 in PIP benefits, and depicting a police officer in an advertisement that does not clearly state the individual is a “Paid Actor.”

In addition, they were required to pay monetary damages, not to the State of Florida, but to charity.

Of the $550,000 they were ordered to pay in charitable contributions, $275,000 went to the Broward Health Foundation and $275,000 went to Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital

Two main questions come to my mind when I hear 411-PAINS’s non-attorney spokespeople giving advice on how to handle the traumatic aftermath of a car accident.

What exactly is a non-attorney spokesperson? 

411-PAIN non-attorney spokespeople are exactly that, NOT ATTORNEYS. They may be actors, voice performers, call center workers, or any random person paid to say something into a microphone for a few dollars. There’s really no telling who these people are, but one thing is certain, they are not licensed Florida personal injury attorneys like the lawyers at the Dolman Law Group. They do not have the training, schooling, experience, or results to speak on the behalf of hard working attorneys across the state of Florida. Attorneys spend hundreds of hours studying, applying, and practicing law in order to be able to advise clients. For this reason, it is a shame that actors are allowed to go on TV, in front of millions of people, and pretend as if they know what is best for the victim of an accident; because they don’t.

What qualifies a non-attorney spokesperson to give pseudo-legal advice to accident victims?

NOTHING. 

The Florida Bar Association is in charge of governing the legal community in the state of Florida. The Florida Rules of Professional Conduct lay out ethical standards for lawyers, and other people working in the legal profession, to follow. These rules specifically dictate that only attorneys who are licensed to practice law in the state of Florida are legally permitted to give legal advice. Non-attorneys are people who have either failed to pass the Florida bar exam, been deemed unfit to practice law by the Florida Bar or who have not attended law school. Whichever of these classifications apply to the non-attorney spokespeople of these lawyer referral services is unclear. As a consumer, you should be concerned about who is giving you advice on how to protect your legal rights, especially when you are in a vulnerable position after an auto accident

Instead of trusting the unstable advice of a corny TV commercial, you should speak to an experienced, licensed Florida personal injury attorney at the Dolman Law Group.

I can’t tell you what the lawyers who pay 411-PAIN for clients do to protect the people they catch in their trap, but I can tell you what we do. The injury law attorneys at Dolman Law Group bring personal service to each one of our personal injury cases. Our clients are given direct access to the firm’s experienced car accident attorneys by way of their attorney’s personal cell phone number and e-mail address. Our clients also have the security of knowing that the Dolman Law Group doesn’t have loyalty to a lawyer referral service such as 411 Pain, 1-800-ASK-Gary, or any of the associated medical groups. The only person we are obligated to is our clients, from beginning to end.