This guest blog post was written by Matthew Dolman, a personal injury attorney
in Clearwater, FL, and re-published with his express permission. His firm
can be reached at
We have all heard them hundreds of times, those catchy sing-along ads for
lawyer referral services like 411-PAIN. They always include a catchy hook
and a spokesperson making questionable claims. They always assert that
by calling their easy to remember number, you can be connected with an
attorney who can help you and your family after an auto accident. Sometimes,
the ads even provide a dollar amount, like 1 800 Ask Gary does when they
mention that you could receive $10,000 after an auto collision.
But are these lawyer referral services legit?
What about the claims they make? Can they really guarantee you thousands
of dollars? And how do they work anyway? Let’s take a closer look
at the growing trend of lawyer referral serviceWhat is 411 PAIN?
Beware of Act-Fast Claims
The billboards and TV spots for 411 Pain—sometimes going by 1 800
PAIN—suggest that you should call 411 immediately after you hang
up with 911. They act like it should be part of the process of an auto
accident. Their hope is to inundate you with so much advertising that
your brain goes into auto-drive after an accident. They want those jingles
to resonate so deep that after you call 911, calling 1 800 411 PAIN almost
seems natural. But if they really had your best interest in mind, wouldn’t
they suggest that you do some research first?
Quite simply, no; they don’t want you to think too much about your
decision to call. Instead, they want to catch you in a vulnerable moment,
get you on the line, and hook you with a commitment, all before your really
know what you’re getting into.
But if you don’t have time to research an attorney yourself, maybe
411 or Ask Gary are doing the leg work for you…then again.
How does 411 PAIN decide which attorney is best suited to handle your case?
After seeing the ads, you may be left with the impression that it’s
an honor for an attorney to be associated with 411 Pain or any other “for-profit”
accident referral services. Or that the attorneys that they employ are
the top of the industry. But how does 411-Pain really decide who they
will accept into their “exclusive” network?
Their ads fail to tell you that the founder, Dr. Lewin, is a chiropractor
not a lawyer; or that the lawyers who elect to become members of 411-Pain
pay a monthly fee to receive case referrals. In reality, for-profit lawyer
referral services such as 411 Pain merely act as the middle-man. They
take your call, transfer you to a random attorney, then get paid. In fact,
you could accomplish the very same thing by calling the first attorney
you find in an internet search.
By calling 411-Pain, you place your trust in an individual sitting in a
call center who is neither a licensed attorney nor a physician. Instead,
the person answering your call may be fresh out of high school, a part-time
college student, or someone with no more knowledge about personal injury
claims than yourself.
Once they have you on the line, the operator refers you to whichever attorney
is next in line and has paid their monthly fee. That’s the extent
of their matchmaking skills. The attorney you end up with may have little
or no experience in handling auto collision cases; after all, skills or
experience isn’t part of the admissions requirements.
This process empowers a random operator, who likely lacks any specialized
training, to make decisions that greatly impact you, your family, and
the potential value of your legal claim.
How do I know this?
In 2011, I had a lunch with an individual who described herself as an “attorney
liaison” for 411-Pain. At no point did I have any interest in joining
this group, but I took the lunch with a colleague to get an inside look
at the process. She informed us that we would have to pay a fee (I believe
it was monthly) and that we would then receive cases either directed or
referred to us by a call center.
Needless to say, I was surprised to hear that someone in a random call
center would be making the determination of which client would be sent
to which attorney. I guess I thought that the lawyer referral service
employed in-house specialists who would analyze the case and determine
the best person for the job. Perhaps that was wishful thinking. Instead,
the only two qualifications are: is the lawyer in the same town as the
client and have they paid their fees.
Don’t trust this “complex” vetting process!
Do 411-Pain Attorneys Have Any Special Qualities?
The short answer is no. You might think that an attorney receiving your
case referral has handled hundreds of auto accident claims, but as we’ve
mentioned this may not be the case, since the only requirement to join
411-Pain or any other another lawyer referral service is to pay the requisite fee.
Miami New Times recently published a very interesting
exposé on 411-Pain. The article exposes an unflattering view of the origins of
411, as well as, the principal founding members who have quite a colorful
track record. The article details a lengthy account of the difficulties
some injury victims faced after calling 411-Pain and starting medical
treatment with one of the clinics associated with the referral service.
The article, written by Lisa Rab, discusses issues that injury victims
had with their 411-pain lawyer/law firms. In many instances, the auto
accident injury victim never even spoke with their attorney, while others
experienced great difficulty in getting a hold of their lawyer. This is
usually an indicator that firm is a personal injury settlement mill. This
means that the firm takes as many cases as possible in order to utilize
a quantity over quality approach. For example, if a settlement mill takes
100 cases a month and settles each one for $5,000, then their profit would
be much higher than just taking 15 cases and settling them for $45,000.
However, would you rather be one of the 500 or one of the 15? When quantity
is the goal, quality goes out the window. These attorney don’t have
to worry about client satisfaction, after all, 411 will be sending them
a new client tomorrow. Attorneys who depend on recommendations and reputation
actually want to please their clients by keeping communication open and
getting the biggest settlement possible. This concept usually applies
to any firm that uses some alternative means to gain clients, rather than
relying on their actual experience and skill set.
Obviously, I am not saying that all law firms in the 411 Pain network are
mere settlement mills or that they have some dubious agenda. That would
be a blanket statement I’m not comfortable making. In fact, I’m
sure there are some good attorneys who are part of the network, that’s
just common sense. But the expose in the
Miami New Times illustrates behavior indicative of lawyers who care more about making
a profit than actually contributing to their field. When I hear complaints
from an injury victim that they never met their attorney and phone calls
to the law firm consistently went un-returned, red flags go up. If you
haven’t met your attorney, or can’t get a hold of them to
save your life, it may be time to think about alternative options.
Is 411-Pain a Scam?
There are many concerns regarding 411-Pain, Ask Gary, and other legal referral
November 2017: Just after Thanksgiving, the Government Employee Insurance Company, better
known as GEICO, filed a $15,000,000 lawsuit against 411 PAIN, the companies
and people who own 411 PAIN, and some lawyers and doctors who work with
411 PAIN. In the this lawsuit, GEICO alleges that 411 PAIN, its parent
company Path Medical, and its owner Robert Lewin all conspired to fraudulently
scam GEICO out of millions of dollars by violating a plethora of laws,
by embellishing medical codes, and by charging for services they never
performed. GEICO alleges that 411 PAIN and its affiliates concocted an
elaborate scheme to create an illegal revolving door in which each company
would send a patient around to each provider, all or most of which were
owned by Path Medical. This “business model” is highly illegal
in the medical and legal industry. GEICO claims that 411 PAIN violated
Florida’s laws regarding the Florida’s patient brokering act
(the “Patient Brokering Act”Fla. Stat § 817.505); Florida’s
anti-kickback statute (the “Anti-Kickback Statute” Fla. Stat.
§456.054); Florida’s Patient Self-Referral Act (the “Self-Referral
Act” Fla. Stat. § 456.053); the Florida Health Care Clinic
Act, (the “Clinic Act” Fla. Stat. § 400.990 et seq. );
and Florida law regulating advertising by chiropractors (the “Chiropractor
Advertising Laws” Fla. Stat. § 460.413, F.A.C. Rule 64B2-15.001 ).
The lawsuit claims that the named Defendants wrongly obtained from GEICO
“fraudulent no-fault (“no-fault”, “personal injury
protection”, or “PIP”) insurance charges through Defendant
Path Medical, LLC (“Path Medical”) relating to medically unnecessary,
illusory, unlawful, and otherwise unreimbursable health care services,
including initial examinations, follow-up examinations, diagnostic imaging,
and physical therapy, and chiropractic services, that purportedly were
provided to automobile accident victims who were eligible for coverage
under GEICO Florida no-fault insurance policies.”
Additionally, GEICO is requesting that $200,000 in pending payments by
deemed null and void. This case, as of the time of writing this article,
has not gone to court yet.
April 2014: The Florida Bar of Governors approved new rules regulating attorneys
who accept clients from for-profit lawyer referral services. One recommendation
prohibits lawyers from accepting a referral from a service that also referred
the client for another professional service, such as medical care, although
the Florida Supreme Court has not yet adopted any new rules as of this time.
June 2012: The Florida Attorney General filed a lawsuit against 411-PAIN. A “Stipulated
Consent Final Judgment” was entered which providing in part, that
“411-PAIN” shall not:
“Use any advertising that promises any specific amount of monetary
“Make any misrepresentation or mislead an individual to believe that
[“411-PAIN”] is directing the consumer to a ‘specialized’
attorney, leading consumers to believe they are being referred by [“411-PAIN”]
to an attorney who specializes in the type of injury or accident they
have sustained, regardless of the area in which the attorney specializes.”
Additionally, the “Stipulated Consent Final Judgment” from
the 411-Pain lawsuit ordered “411-PAIN” to:
“Modify any websites and all other online advertising … utilizing
a “Find a Lawyer” section or equivalent service to reflect
only currently licensed lawyers and not doctors or chiropractors or other
individuals who are not licensed to practice law …”
Pay $75,000 in attorney and investigative fees
Make a $550,000 donation to the Broward Health Foundation and the Joe DiMaggio
Children’s Hospital Foundation.
October 2011: The Florida Bar posted an article on their website called “Investigators
find fraud associated with some lawyer referral services.” The article
expresses the concerns of many that
some ads for lawyer and medical referral services mislead by implying victims
will get money if they’ve been in accidents. Some encourage those
involved in accidents — but not injured — to file merit-less
December 2010: The
Miami New Times posted an article summarizing a 411-Pain class action lawsuit previously
filed against 411 Pain. The article reports that Dr. Lewin, the chiropractor
owner of 411 Pain (1800411PAIN), said that lawyers do not pay any fee
to be a part of the 411-Pain Network. Instead, the doctors and lawyers
have “a reciprocal relationship,” meaning that in some cases,
lawyers refer patients to doctors and vice versa.
As the Florida Bar and others have suggested, the members of 411-Pain often
encourage injury victims to seek recovery therapy through chiropractors
who have also paid a fee to be a part of the same referral network. This
creates an inherent conflict of interest, since this opens the door for
attorneys to advise someone to seek treatment that is either not necessary
or that is disproportionate to the accident. Basically, when a lawyer
and a chiropractor are in the same network, they may have incentives to
refer their clients to each other. (Do you recall that the owner of the
lawyer referral network was in the business of chiropractics?). This reciprocal
network can be dangerous to patients for two reasons. Either patients
who need a specialized type of treatment dont get the care they need and
instead are sent to a chiropractor, or they get sent to a chiropractor
and didn’t any type of treatment.
Further, the same lawyer and chiropractor may avoid sending the patient
to a specialist like a physical medicine specialist or orthopedic surgeon
until the PIP (personal injury protection) benefits are used up. Several
victims who utilized 411-Pain to retain an attorney allege that their
assigned lawyer encouraged them to receive medical treatment over and
over and failed to state that the majority of the settlement proceeds
would be used to pay the accumulated medical bills. Sadly, the longer
you receive medical treatment, the more PIP can be billed by the doctors
until the $10,000.00 benefit amount is exhausted. This is the $10,000
that lawyer referral service advertisements used to refer to (they only
stopped because they were forced to). Those ads would claim that victims
could receive up to $10,000 in medical benefits. This obviously implied
the victim would get the money. Instead, what really happens is that money
goes to the doctors to pay for their services. This is also the reason
that lawyers and chiropractors had a vested interest and treating until
the bill reached this amount.
Of course, using your 10k in PIP benefits is not at all an inherently bad
thing. It is a great system that allows people who are really injured
to get the medical care they need without concern about fault. This expedites
the process and ensures that hardworking doctors are getting paid for
work and that injured victims are getting the care they need.
This further brings into question whether or not 411 Pain would be willing
to send their clients to the very best healthcare professional for their
case or if they would simply refer them to a member of their expansive
network of physicians, even if they weren’t the best fit. 411 Pain
has deals with specific chiropractors who will provide service to accident
victims in areas for which they don’t have a clinic. Who determines
whether this chiropractor is the best physician to suit your medical needs?
Auto Accident Victims Scammed by 411-Pain
An investigation by CBS affiliate WKMG found numerous instances where injury
victims were left with hefty debts after a 411 Pain center or 411-PAIN
affiliated clinic exhausted the $10,000 in available PIP coverage. The
Orlando sentinel published a
more detailed report on the lawsuit against 411-Pain and the subsequent settlement entered
into with the Attorney General’s office.
Based on the settlement, 411-Pain is prohibited from saying it is referring
injury victims to a “specialized attorney.”
Changes to Florida’s PIP statute that went into effect on January
1, 2013, require an injury victim to start medical treatment within fourteen
(14) days following an auto accident in order for PIP benefits to apply.
Although an injury victim still has a plausible cause of action against
the at-fault party even if they fail to seek treatment within the first
fourteen (14) days, the 411-Pain ads do not mention this because the 411-Pain
medical clinics cannot bill PIP if the injury victim seeks treatment after
the time period has expired. This is another reason that these companies
want you to call right away. Really, lawyer referral services are in the
business of PIP, not personal injury. Their goal is seemingly to send
as many clients as possible to as many lawyers as possible and to get
the cases settled quick. But what if you case is more complicated than
a few visits to a chiropractor? What if you wait more than 14 days to
seek treatment? In these cases, and in all instances involving the welfare
of your health and your families well-being, it’s best to just contact
an experienced professional whom you can research and verify yourself.
I have personally settled and successfully litigated numerous cases where
my client waited a lengthy period of time before they commenced medical
treatment. It clearly benefits the case to begin treatment immediately
following an accident. However, a claim/case is not destroyed or rendered
fruitless due to waiting to commence medical treatment, something a 411-Pain
lawyer is not likely to mention.
411-Pain Conflicts of Interest
The potential for a conflict of interest continues to be a problem for
411-Pain and other referral services. According to Grier Wells, a Jacksonville lawyer chairing the Florida Bar’s
committee: “Lawyers have shown up at medical clinics unsolicited to meet accident victims
— apparently tipped off by a referral service. Other lawyers might face a legal quandary: Do they have an allegiance
to the client or to a medical provider that’s part of the accident
This is quite a scary proposition. I have been retained by a number of
clients who personally found their prior lawyer through a referral service
and were pushed into extensive treatment with a chiropractor by said attorney.
The lawyer failed to explain their relationship with the lawyer referral
service or disclose that both the law firm and the physician paid to be
a member of the same network. If the client failed to show up for treatment,
both the lawyer and chiropractor would call them on the very same day
asking where they were. It obviously appeared that the attorney and chiropractor
were working together and in close contact.
In case it’s not clear, this is far from ethical. Patients have the
right to get unbiased advice from the people they are paying. When you
hire an attorney, you expect them to be working your in your best interest.
It’s supposed to be a mutual relationship (you get sound legal advice
and services and the attorney gets paid based on performance). But when
you mix another party or two parties into the mix, interests get conflicted
Lawyer Advertising in Florida
In my opinion, word-of-mouth is the most effective form of advertising.
In fact, I would have no qualms if the Florida Bar banned lawyer advertising
altogether. Of course, I do advertise in some form; I have a website,
business cards, and two modest billboards. But when attorneys produce
commercial after commercial, there is a reason that they need that kind
of exposure. If they were running an experienced and upstanding business,
clients would want to come to them on their own volition.
Legal advertising in Florida, and all over the country, creates an atmosphere
in which consumers are routinely misinformed about the quality of lawyers
in the marketplace. The best attorneys often rely on reputation and referrals
from current and former clients. I believe this is the best way to go.
And if you follow this mantra, you will have no need for a referral service
in the first place.
That’s why I, and a majority of the elite personal injury lawyers
in the Tampa Bay area, do not belong to a lawyer referral service.
Let me be clear: I am not seeking to paint all lawyers associated with
lawyer referral services with one brush. In fact, there are some competent
law firms and individual attorneys that are members of such groups. However,
it’s time for consumers to learn the whole truth about 411-Pain,
411-pain attorneys, 800-Ask-Gary, and other for-profit lawyer referral
services in general. I strongly recommend that car accident victims thoroughly
research their options prior to selecting a personal injury attorney.
Further, one should not select a lawyer based solely on an advertisement.
In this case, it’s not even a lawyer who is advertising their services.
Rather, the services are being advertised by a referral service through
a non-attorney spokesperson. Why would you trust a non-attorney spokesperson
with your legal needs? Unfortunately, such individuals are not accountable
to the Florida Bar. Hence, the “for profit” referral services
can make grand claims in their commercials and no one can hold their feet
to the proverbial fire (although this is slowly changing as the need for
regulation becomes so blatant).
Before selecting an attorney, you should research the lawyer’s qualifications
and experience. Do they routinely litigate against various insurance carriers
or are they a settlement mill? How often does the firm take cases to trial
and how often do they just settle to get the case over with? Is the firm
properly staffed and do they have the financial resources to see your
case through to the finish or are they just hoping to make it through
one more case? Is the law firm a volume shop or do they do quality work?
Has the lawyer received awards and recognition for their work from peers
or third-party reviewers?
Don’t select a lawyer merely off an advertisement. And please don’t
take auto accident advice from a non-attorney spokesperson. Both you and
your legal claim against the other driver are too important. Your family
is counting on you to obtain the best legal representation that you can
and you will not find it with 411-Pain or another legal referral service.