Complaints Against Lawyer Referral Services
Ft. Lauderdale-based 411-PAIN is once again among the topic of controversy surrounding Florida-based, for-profit lawyer referral services. State Farm recently initiated a suit against 1-800-ASK-GARY with allegations of fraud and deceptive practices. The suit is once again bringing scrutiny upon lawyer referral services as a whole in the state of Florida.
411-PAIN, a competitor of 1-800-ASK-GARY, has already been forced to make changes after undergoing a Florida Attorney General investigation for misleading advertising and representation. This article may give you a better understanding of the underlying issues of the current State Farm v. ASK-GARY case and its eventual outcome, along with long-standing public criticisms of for-profit lawyer referral services in Florida.
411-PAIN – Consumer Complaints and Scrutiny
The Florida Bar states that the purpose of its lawyer referral service is to make it easier for the general public to find proper legal representation. Both national and local resources are provided to callers who contact the Florida Bar Lawyer Referral service. However, the Florida Bar does not have legal jurisdiction over non-attorney organizations; it only governs those registered with the Florida Bar to practice law in Florida.
In 2010 a consumer class-action lawsuit claiming fraudulent misrepresentations was filed against 411-PAIN because the company’s television commercials incorporated actors posing as police offers enticing viewers, “After 911, call 411! Let them explain to you the $10,000 of injury and lost wage benefits you may be entitled to.”
Unwitting viewers often called following insinuations of $10,000 settlements. The ads never explained that this is a limited benefit which is quickly consumed by medical clinics and attorneys, alleged to be affiliated with the 411-PAIN network.
This is exactly what happened in the twenty-one cases of complaints reported to the Florida AG from 2008 to 2011. One of the cases involved Jazzmill Rodriguez of Deltona who was in a car accident in the summer of 2011.
Rodriguez called the referral line assuming she would be provided with a list of personal injury attorneys near Deltona. Instead, she was simply assigned an attorney and sent directly to Florida Injury, a pain clinic, where a paralegal, not an attorney, met her. The paralegal and clinic staff advised Rodriguez to return for daily treatments for the next ten days.
“Florida Injury exhausted her $10,000 of personal injury protection (PIP) in just over two months. PIP is required in every auto insurance policy in Florida. By the time her coverage was exhausted, the law firm that 411-Pain referred her to told Rodriguez she had no case – The other driver had no bodily injury coverage that she could sue for.”
PIP is a limited benefit in the state of Florida, and Rodriguez was left in the cold, with no real avenue for medical follow-up. Rodriguez complained, “They waited until I racked up almost $15,000 in chiropractor treatment.” Nobody explained the process to Rodriguez until it was too late.
Florida AG Investigation
Numerous scenarios similar to Rodriguez’ occurred enough times to prompt a state attorney investigation. By mid-2012, the AG’s office determined that 411-PAIN “must change its advertising practices and contribute $550,000 to charity” as part of a settlement agreement over alleged misrepresentation. Critics feel the ruling was a mere “slap on the wrist,” and that these pain clinics exhaust PIP benefits deliberately and inefficiently.
Important things to Know about Reputable Attorneys and Ethics
A reputable, trustworthy lawyer will:
- Always meet with you, in person, at his/her office. In cases of severe injury, a lawyer may come to your home if necessary.
- Never send you directly to a medical clinic prior to meeting with you and discussing your case.
- Never meet you at a medical clinic or similar location for an initial consultation.
- Never dictate a medical treatment plan. He/she should objectively advise you of any filing timelines that could affect your case.
- Never take on clients who don’t truly require representation or advise clients to pursue costly medical treatment if he/she feels there is no valid case for a claim.
If your lawyer referral service fails to follow these guidelines in any way, it may be time to pursue other options. Don’t underestimate your own self-efficacy in selecting an attorney using the resources you have available to you.
Click Orlando – State leaders probing accident referral services like 411 Pain –
Miami NewTimes News – Crash Course: 411-PAIN network will line their pockets with your insurance money – http://www.miaminewtimes.com/2010-12-09/news/crash-course-411-pain-network-will-line-their-pockets-with-your-insurance-money/
Orlando Sentinel – 411-PAIN ordered to change ads, contribute to charity as part of settlement –http://articles.orlandosentinel.com/2012-06-04/news/os-411-pain-settlement-florida-20120604_1_change-ads-lawyer-services-pain