We have all heard them a hundred times. The TV and radio advertisements for 411-pain where the spokesperson claims that by calling their number you can be connected with an attorney who can help you and your family after an auto accident. Or maybe it is the ad for Ask-Gary suggesting that you can receive $10,000 after an auto collision. But are they legit?
The billboards and TV spots for 411-Pain suggest that the victims of car crashes will receive $10,000 after calling 411. In fact, many of the ads suggest that you should call 911 and then 411 after an auto wreck. But what happens after you make that call?
After seeing the ads, you may be left with the impression that it is an honor for an attorney to be associated with 411-Pain or any other “for-profit” lawyer referral services such as 1-800-ASK-GARY. So how does 411-Pain work? The ad fails to tell you that the founder, Dr. Lewin, is a chiropractor not a lawyer, or that the lawyers who elect to become members of 411-Pain pay a fee to participate and to receive case referrals. In reality, for-profit lawyer referral services such as 411 Pain merely act as the middle-man. By calling 411-Pain, you place your trust in an individual sitting inside a call center who is not a licensed attorney or a physician. Instead, the person answering your call may be a high school graduate, a part-time college student or someone with no knowledge about auto collisions or insurance. That person then refers you to an attorney who has paid a fee to receive the referral. An attorney who may have little or no experience in handling auto collision cases. When that happens, you empower this operator, who likely lacks any specialized training, to make decisions that greatly impact you, your family and the potential value of your legal claim.
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, but I 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 that we would then 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 and one can only assume that the individual in the call center is neither an attorney nor a physician. How does this individual know what is best for you and your family after an auto accident?
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 as the only requirement to join 411-Pain or another lawyer referral service is to pay the requisite fee. 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 faced by injury victims after calling 411-Pain and commencing medical treatment with a clinic associated with the referral service. The article, written by Lisa Rab, discusses issues that injury victims had with their 411-pain lawyer/law firms. In many instances, the auto accident injury victim never spoke with their attorney or experienced difficulty in getting a hold of their lawyer. The lawyers/law firms described in the article share many of the defining characteristics of a personal injury settlement mill. I am not stating that all law firms in the 411 Pain network are mere settlement mills. Rather, the expose in the Miami New Times illustrates behavior indicative of lawyers who care more about the quantity of their cases as opposed to focusing on quality. When I hear complaints from an injury victim that they never met their attorney and phone calls to the law firm consistently went unreturned, red flags go up.
There are many concerns regarding 411-Pain, 800-Ask-Gary and other legal referral services including:
Additionally, the “Stipulated Consent Final Judgment” from the 411-Pain lawsuit ordered “411-PAIN” to:
As the Florida Bar and others have suggested, the members of 411-Pain often encourage injury victims to seek 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 as your attorney may advise you to seek 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. 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. 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.
Another question raised is whether 411 Pain will send you to the very best health care professional for your case or simply refer you to a member of their expansive network of physicians. 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 your medical needs?
An investigation by CBS affiliate WKMG found numerous instances where injury victims were left with hefty balances after a 411 Pain center or 411 pain affiliated 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.”
Changes to Florida’s PIP statute that went into effect on January 1, 2013, require an injury victim to start medical treatment within fourteen (14) days following an auto accident in order 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 fourteen (14) days, the 411-Pain ads do not mention this because the 411-Pain medical clinics cannot bill PIP if the injury victim seeks treatment after the fourteen-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, something a 411-Pain lawyer is not likely to mention.
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?” 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”.
In my opinion, word of mouth is often the most effective form of advertising. 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 often rely on word of mouth and referrals from current and former clients and the majority of the elite personal injury lawyers in the Tampa Bay area do not belong to a lawyer referral service.
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, 800-Ask-Gary, and other for-profit lawyer referral services in general. 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 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.
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.