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 not 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 an impression, that it must be an honor to be associated with 411-Pain or any analogous “for profit” lawyer referral service (i.e., 1-800-ASK-GARY). This could not be further from the truth. The 411 Pain lawyers pay to be a member of this so-called “exclusive group” that they allegedly worked so hard to cultivate. These facts make such commercials laughable. Sadly, your average unsophisticated consumer has no idea that the non-attorney spokesperson is only telling them a half-truth when referring to this exclusive group of lawyers.
In 2011, I had a 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. 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. Thus, someone in a call center was making the determination of where the client would be sent. One can assume, that the individual in the call center; is neither an attorney or physician. Thus, how would this individual know what is best for the prospective auto accident victim.
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 disingenuous by many.
The Miami New Times published a very interesting expose on 411-Pain, that paints a very unflattering illustration of the origins of this particular lawyer referral service as well as the principal founding members who have a quite colorful track record. The article details 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 411-pain lawyer/law firm who they were referred to by the lawyer referral service. In many instances, the personal injury victim either never spoke with their attorney or had experienced difficulty in getting a hold of the lawyer.
Additionally, the article discusses the relationships between 411 Pain and the lawyers in the network. In fact, the lawyers will often encourage the injury victim to seek consistent therapy through Chiropractors who also pay to be a part of the very same network. This creates an inherent conflict of interest as the attorney may advise their client into treatment that is either not necessary or encourage an amount of treatment that is disproportionate to the accident. Further, the same lawyer and Chiropractor may avoid sending the patient to a specialist like a Physiatrist (Physical medicine specialist) or Orthopedic Surgeon until the PIP (personal injury protection) benefits are used up. The author interviews several individuals who utilized 411 Pain to retain an attorney. They allege their lawyer encouraged them to treat over and over and failed to state that the majority of the settlement proceeds would be used to pay the accumulated medical bills.
Another question raised is whether 411 Pain will send you to the very best health care professional for your case or simply a member of their expansive network of physicians. This is no different than the attorneys that comprise the 411 Pain network. Who determined that these are the best lawyers? The answer is that these are the lawyers who opted to pay 411 Pain to become a member of their network. 411 Pain has deals with specific Chiropractors who will provide service to accident victims in areas for which they do not have a clinic. Who determines whether this Chiropractor is the best physician to suit the patient’s needs? Furthermore, in locations wherein 411 Pain does have a clinic, it would be in their best interest to keep the patient treating at their location regardless of their need to see a specialist. The longer the patient treats for, the more PIP they can bill until they may ultimately exhaust the benefits available (often in the amount of $10,000.00).
In June of 2012, the Florida Attorney General’s office settled its lawsuit against the 411-Pain lawyer referral service. 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 $10,000.00 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 a 411 pain center or 411 pain clinic 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.
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. Further, the question becomes whether the lawyers associated with 411 Pain are quality firms or mere settlement mills. Check out this article on personal injury settlement mills, published in Forbes magazine.
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. 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?” This is quite a scary proposition. I have been retained by a number of clients who personally found their prior lawyer through a referral service and were pushed into extensive treatment with a Chiropractor by said attorney. The lawyer failed to explain their relationship with the lawyer referral service or disclose that both the law firm and the physician paid to be a member of the same network. When the client failed to show up for treatment, both the lawyer and Chiropractor would call them on the very same day. It appeared that the attorney and chiro were working together in cahoots.
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 paint all lawyers associated with lawyer referral services with one brush. In fact, there are some 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, 411-pain attorneys and lawyer referral services in general. A majority of the finest personal injury attorneys in the State are not associated with any lawyer referral service. The vast majority of the top personal injury and civil trial lawyers in the Tampa Bay area have no affiliation with any lawyer referral service. In fact, many lawyers openly disdain lawyer referral services for the very issues cited in this article. The cheesy commercials and songs associated with lawyer referral services have done little to improve the reputation of a profession that is often shunned by the general public. One could argue that the commercials and songs portray personal injury attorneys in a poor light and serve to greatly enhance generalizations often linked with accident lawyers.
I would strongly recommend that a car accident victim 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 is 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.
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? Is the firm properly staffed and 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 or recognition for their work from peers or third-party review? Check the law firm’s reviews from prior clients.
In any event, it is foolish to select a lawyer merely off an advertisement. It is even more troubling that auto accident victims routinely take advice from a non-attorney spokesperson.