Florida Supreme Court reprimands lawyer for distributing funds without paying medical lien
This article will discuss the 3/3/16 Florida Supreme Court Order and reprimanding a lawyer for failing to pay a provider who held a letter of protection in a personal injury matter from the proceeds of a personal injury settlement
The Conditional PleaAccording to the Conditional Plea for Consent Judgment, the lawyer (who was admitted in 1972) represented a woman in a personal injury case which was settled for $12,000.00. The lawyer disbursed the settlement funds to the client without satisfying a letter of protection from one of the client's medical providers. The lawyer was told at that time that the medical provider was seeking insurance reimbursement for the medical services. The lawyer stated that the medical provider did not indicate that insurance did not cover the services and he did not know that the bill was still outstanding until after the distribution of the settlement funds. The client subsequently made offers to settle her bill with the provider "based upon the rate for services she was previously billed as a private pay patient; however, her offers have been rejected. Based upon this conduct, Respondent admits he is guilty of violating Rule 5-1.1(f) (Trust Accounts - Disputed Ownership of Trust Funds)." In addition to the public reprimand, the lawyer must complete the Bar's Ethics School and pay the Bar's costs and the cost of the school.
Bottom LineLawyers must be aware of the importance of handling and resolving any letters of protection before settlement funds are distributed. Under the Florida Bar rules, if the lawyer does not receive a response from the medical provider, the funds should remain in the IOTA trust account. If the matter is not resolved and the funds remain in the trust account for an extended period of time, under the Bar rules, the lawyer must consider placing the funds into the registry of the court for the court to decide how the distribution should be handled. The same is true if the client is disputing payments to medical providers (or the lawyer's fees and costs).