May 26, 2023 • By Dennis Beaver

Dennis BeaverToday’s story will not only be of special interest to health care providers —physicians, chiropractors, physical therapists, and psychologists, who treat auto accident victims on a lien basis — but will offer suggestions on how not to deal with a deadbeat lawyer who is supposed to protect your bill.

And if you are wondering how often this happens, just ask Southern California attorney Shawn Steele, “Nationwide, over three-quarters of lawyers who handle personal cases on a lien basis flagrantly refuse to honor the lien — and in my experience, especially those attorneys who spend millions of dollars on television ads. Far too many health care professionals just don’t know what to do when they are stiffed, or their bill is cut to shreds.”

Reputation Matters

The last paragraph of an article I wrote several years ago, A Lawyer’s Reputation Begins in Law School, dealt with my classmate who tried to deny the entire first year Loyola law School class an important final exam study aid, and reads:

“Our reputation — with classmates who will become colleagues, partners and the judges before whom we will stand — is one of the most fragile things we possess. Handle it with care. Across my years of practice, I’ve found that most do.”

In the City of Good Neighbors — also known as Buffalo, New York — resides “Eric” an attorney who doesn’t care much about protecting his own reputation as much as fattening his wallet by attempting to steal personal injury settlement funds intended to pay for his client’s medical treatment.

Eric finally agreed to pay, a result of the doctor’s new office manager “Kitty’s” outrage upon discovering Eric’s deceit. In researching how to deal with a thief who is a member of the New York State Bar Association, she found my Feb. 8, 2019 article, When Lawyers Refuse to Pay a Doctor’s Bill.

She phoned me — and to quote from the 1980s TV show The A-Team, “I love it when a plan comes together.”

Because typically when a lawyer, or in my case, a lawyer-journalist, calls someone who has not performed under their contract, things happen afterward. I told Kitty that I would phone Eric and talk to him, as the bare fact of my call should prompt him to either pay up or provide proof of payment.

Lack of Medical Insurance – Letter of Protection

In mid-2019, “Rocky” was stopped for a red light and rear-ended by a driver found to be at fault by the Buffalo Police Department. The collision resulted in a worsening of his spinal stenosis, and extreme pain. He had no health or auto med-pay insurance, but hired Eric, who was able to get pain specialist “Dr. S” to treat him based on a “Letter of Protection.”

The letter read:

“Our office will protect the interests of all medical providers who agree to wait for payment until such time as the case is settled.”

Case Settles – Where’s Our Money?

As often happens, the insurance company representing the at-fault driver refused to make a reasonable offer, the matter was litigated and along came COVID-19, postponing a final settlement until mid-2022. Then things got interesting.

Kitty sent me correspondence and phone messages from Eric’s office claiming that the bill had been paid, but no proof — no canceled check — was produced.

“We were given a host of excuses and promises to have payment next week, and next week and next week, until I was fed up and filed a complaint with the New York State Bar and called you, Mr. Beaver,” Kitty said.

“Hi, Eric, I’m doing a story on lawyers who stiff doctors — can you help me?”

What motivated me was Kitty’s sense of fundamental morality, right and wrong, plus my contempt for members of the legal profession who are just plain thieves.

And when I phoned Eric, explaining that I was looking into what appeared to be a case of a lawyer who failed to keep his word, it was clear I was dealing with an indignant thief who got caught.

He was laughable.

His excuse? “It’s the patient’s bill. The doctor should get his money from Rocky.”

But Rocky spoke with you and you promised to pay the bill, months ago, so where’s the doctor’s money?

Eric then said, “Well, possibly we overlooked payment but I will take care of it next week and you can tell them that. But don’t dare use my name in a story!”

“I never use real names, without permission, so don’t worry, Eric, and certainly don’t worry one bit about the fact that I am looking at letters from you promising to pay the bill next week. Several letters all saying the same thing.”

Kitty phoned me after that phone call. “He called my boss, and promised to pay us. But if he does not, what should we do?”

“You have lodged a complaint with the State Bar, so file against his law firm in Small Claims Court. Lawyers hate both things, and a check should magically appear. I also recommended following the suggestions in the previously mentioned article.”