Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater has publically called for a ban on lawyer referral services such as 1-800-Ask-Gary and 411-Pain. In a letter to Scott Hawkins, President of the Florida Bar, Atwater states “My department has received many confidential tips regarding the incestuous interactions between the participants in these referral services. I am appalled by the fact that these individuals, disguised as legitimate referral services, have been able to prey on society for so long."
Finally some tough talk against lawyer referral services that have proliferated in recent years and have in my humble opinion resulted in a negative taint on our profession. Atwater is stating that lawyer referral services create a quid pro quo relationship wherein attorneys are sending clients to clinics associated with the referral service as opposed to where the client would obtain the optimal medical service. An attorney for “Ask Gary" has stated publically that lawyers affiliated with the referral service are not obligated to send clients back to Physicians Group, LLC. I simply do not believe this assertion. If you do not return a case and it becomes a pattern, how long will the attorney or law firm be associated with the referrals service? It is basically an unwritten rule, as the owners of the various referral services know all too well that such an agreement would be unconscionable if memorialized in writing. Thus the attorneys associated with such referral services understand that they must refer the clients back to the clinics that are owned by the very referral service that sent the case.
Rather than banning PIP the insurance industry should get behind Atwater’s recommendation and introduce or support legislation banning lawyer-medical referral services. Whether or not a quid pro quo relationship exists (it clearly does despite the arguments to the contrary), lawyer-medical referral services serve little public benefit. Many consumers rely on the promises such as “you may be entitled to $10,000.00″ that is heard in the commercials for many lawyer referral services. The advertisements fail to state that the $10,000.00 being referred to is the $10,000.00 in no-fault benefits (also known as personal injury protection) each insured driver is required to carry pursuant to Florida Statute. In other words, what the consumer may be entitled to is $10,000.00 in medical treatment. The purpose of these advertisements is to drive new patients into the very referral service and these very medical practices are designed to milk as much of the $10,000.00 in available benefits as purpose. The majority of the clinics are multi-disciplinary wherein Chiropractors, Orthopedic Surgeons, Physiatrists, and Neurologists all work under the same room. This unorthodox style of medical practice is designed to keep everything in-house under one roof so the owners of the referral service can earn as much of the $10,000.00 as possible.
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