My injury lawyer just settled my case after he referred me to all his doctor friends and told me not to admit to that in my deposition. Now that my case settled for 55 thousand... I can see that he gave a 3 thousand referral fee to the head of ER billing department, all his doctor buddies reduced their fee by 1 thousand dollars. So in fact ..the doctor's fees ended up being 32 thousand. The lawyer took 22 thousand. I am being offered a mere 600 hundred dollars after 3 years of a long case. And doctors that I never wanted to see or would have known about if it was not for him. And I still have a permanent disability. ..? I s this legal ?
It is not uncommon for a lawyer to negotiate with billing departments to lower the liens on a client's medical bills - in fact, a good lawyer will take the time to do this because it is in the client's best interests. However, the numbers you have stated seem unfair. If you have taken out a loan against your case - that is another story. An attorney would need to look at the actual documentation and settlement disbursement sheet to determine whether anything nefarious is going on here. It is difficult to believe that the lawyer took $22k and you only received $600.
No, lawyers are not allowed to pay referral fees to non lawyers. You may be mistaken that your lawyer paid a referral fee to the head of ER billing department. Ask your lawyer for an explanation.
It is not uncommon nor illegal for an attorney to refer you to a treating health care provider or a physician for consultation. It also is not uncommon for physicians and other health care professionals to reduce their liens so a case can settle.
Your lawyer should not tell you to lie during a deposition, but telling you not to voluntarily admit a fact is different—unless you specifically asked a question where an admission was required.
You write nothing about the merits of your case. I agree the numbers seem unfair. Most attorneys would have insisted on a greater lien reduction and perhaps even reduced their fees to achieve a more equitable result. However, if you have already settled the case, it's a little late to complain now.
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Referral fees to non-lawyers are illegal (and even those to lawyers generally have to be for legal services provided).
What you relate seems highly irregular. Paying a referral fee to the head of the billing department, a nonlawyer, is a serious breach of ethics.
I recommend you file a formal complaint with the State Bar against your attorney.
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The $3,000 referral fee to the head of an ER billing department - if that is really what happened - appears to be a violation of ethical rules. Lawyers in California are not permitted to pay referral fees to non-lawyers. Your lawyer receiving $22,000 and you receiving $600 certainly seems quite unfair, but you have to look at your attorney-client fee agreement to see what kind of a contingency fee arrangement you agreed to.
As you have been told referral fees are not allowed and area violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct. If the lawyer really told you to lie in your deposition that would also be a violation and actually unlawful. Finally the distribution of proceeds also seems unfair. If you have not signed the settlement check and/or release you should not do so until you have a chance to meet with your attorney to discuss what is going on and receive what to you seems like a fair amount of money. Good luck and I am sorry about what you are experiencing.
If you have not received and reviewed a complete disbursement copy of where all settlement monies were paid, request it. Your description of events sounds suspect and getting your State Bar involved seems prudent. Gather all the information you can. Request a copy of the cancelled settlement check, copies of all bills and payment of those medical costs, read your retainer again. All those documents will be helpful to you when you talk with the State Bar.
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