My case settled several months ago and I have already been paid. My problem is that my lawyer still hasn't paid my medical bills. I have been given excuse after excuse as to why and promises that after a certain paper is signed, etc they will be paid. Nothing else needs to be done! The check for my portion of the settlement money has already been deposited and cleared. What should I do to get my bills paid?
While my colleagues are correct that there is no set time for these bills to be paid, there does need to be some reasonableness applied, as, after all, the money to pay them is supposed to be sitting in your attorney's trust account and not being spent elsewhere. I always pay everyone at the same time, absent some dispute over the amount to be paid such as a pending reduction. You should have signed a document identifying everyone to be paid and how much they would be paid. If you didn't, ask for one now, and ask for a WRITTEN direct explanation for the delays including when payment will be made. Demand that written explanation in a reasonable time (say no later than Friday, close of business) or you will have no choice but to report to the State Bar and seek their assistance. After all, you can't take the risk that the money to pay your medical expenses is/has been spent elsewhere, leaving you holding the bag.
I agree with my colleagues there is no set time. It is possible that your attorney and/or his staff are working to get reductions on those bills, which could result in more money in your pocket. However, if reductions were already taken care of, and everyone was paid, and your money is just sitting in his trust account, then there aren't many justifiable reason why checks haven't been cut. I would be curious to hear what excuses you have been getting.
NEW YORK STATE BAR ASSOCIATION
Opinion # 717 – 04/15/1999
Topic: Medical liens; duty to pay funds to third party; missing lienor.
Digest: Plaintiff’s attorney should pay holder of valid lien from settlement proceeds. If client disputes amount or validity of lien, attorney should remit to client funds not in dispute and hold remaining funds pending resolution of dispute. In event of missing lienor, attorney should consider several options, including application for court order concerning disbusement of funds.
Code: DR 9-102(C)(1),(4); DR 9-102(F).
A lawyer has received a settlement check payable to a client and containing the legend “...for treatment or services and interest rendered.” The check represents full settlement of a claim arising from a motor vehicle accident. The attorney’s fee is not in issue. The client had incurred five medical bills for treatment as a result of the accident and they remain unpaid. The lawyer’s preliminary research indicates that two of the five medical service providers have liens and that one of the two is “no longer in business.” One of the providers without a lien is also out of business.
May the attorney turn the check over to the client, relying on the client to pay the providers from the proceeds of the check?
If the attorney has an obligation to pay the holders of valid liens directly, how would that be accomplished in the case of the lienor which is out of business?
DR 9?102(C)(1) states that a lawyer must: “Promptly notify a client or third person of the receipt of funds, securities, or other properties in which the client or third person has an interest.” Therefore, the attorney must notify the client and the holders of valid liens and assignments when the check is received.1
DR 9?102(C)(4) requires the lawyer to “promptly pay or deliver to the client or third person as requested by the client or third person the funds, securities, or other properties in the possession of the lawyer which the client or third person is entitled to receive” (emphasis added). The attorney should make a reasonable effort to ascertain whether the provider has an interest in or is entitled to receive payment from the funds in the attorney’s possession. See Nassau County 96?13. Absent an assignment or lien, a provider would not have an interest in and be entitled to payment from the funds. Leon v. Martinez, 84 NY2d 83 (1994).
We do not believe the attorney is ethically bound to prefer providers without liens or assignments over the client because those providers would simply be creditors of the client. An attorney who honored the claims of such creditors over the client’s clear entitlement would run afoul of DR 9?102(C)(4). See Connecticut Opinion 95?20 (1992); Alaska Opinion 92?3 (1995). At the same time, DR 9?102(C)(4) requires the attorney to pay a provider from the proceeds of the check if the provider asserts that it has a lien or assignment from the client, the attorney is satisfied that the assertion is correct, and the client does not dispute that assertion. See Nassau County 96?13. An attorney who fails to honor a lien or assignment may be held liable to the provider if he or she pays out money in disregard of the lienor or assignor’s entitlement to the funds. Leon v. Martinez, 84 N.Y. 2d 83 (1994).
If a provider asserts that it has a valid lien or assignment, but the client disputes the provider’s assertion, the attorney should hold the check or its proceeds, pending resolution of the dispute. Nassau County 92?10, 96?13. If the check is payable to the client, the attorney should counsel the client to endorse the check for deposit in the attorney’s trust fund to avoid the check becoming stale.2 If the client refuses to do so, the attorney should retain possession of the check pending resolution of t
Presumably your lawyer gave you a settlement sheet showing how much was going to you, how much was going to the lawyer and how much was going to each medical care provider. Failure to do that would suggest a problem. If the lawyer did advise you how much was going to each medical care provider, then I don't understand why they haven't been paid.
Currently the Nevada State Bar takes the view that if a lawyer knows a third party such as a health care provider has a claim to settlement funds, the lawyer must either pay that third party or seek to have the claim adjudicated.
If the lawyer has not set aside enough money to pay all of your medical bills that is a potential problem the lawyer has with the State Bar. However, unfortunately, it is also your problem because you are liable for the bills.
Hopefully your lawyer can pay all of your bills with the money that was not given to you.
Occasionally it may happen that a lawyer when advising a settlement and making up a settlement sheet forgets about or does not have notice of a medical creditor. When I advise a client of a settlement offer I say to the client or show the client something like this, "The offer is $20,000. I have four medical liens of A, B, C and D. I have them reduced to W, X, Y and Z. My fee will be M and you will net N. Do you want to settle on these terms and is it correct that you only went to the four health care providers I mentioned?"
Write the lawyer and list each outstanding bill he was supposed to pay from the settlement. Ask him to write back immediately, advising for each: the date and amount payment was made, if payment hasnt been made, each reason why it hasnt. If it hasnt been paid yet, when will it?
If there was insufficient money left from settlement to pay all medical bills, it coul;d explain the delay as atty attempts to negotiate the bills.
If you dont get a response w/in 10 days, you can contact the State Bar.
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