As you may have heard, nearly a half-dozen Florida attorneys and several of their accomplices are in a world of legal trouble this week for their shady, coordinated client acquisition strategy. It seems that they provided monetary kickbacks to a network of ambulance-chasing tow truck drivers, auto repair workers, and healthcare professionals who referred auto accident victims to the attorneys in question. While it is not illegal for a truck driver or mechanic to refer a customer to an attorney, it is illegal for the attorneys to pay them for these referrals.
Wait… What Happened?
Between May 2015 and December 2016, five attorneys and five non-lawyer accomplices engaged in an illegal client brokering scheme. It worked like this: the accomplice (a tow truck driver or auto repair specialist) would convince the vehicle owner to retain one of the involved attorneys in exchange for a $500-1,500 kickback reward. The next move after filing a personal injury claim was to send the client to a healthcare clinic also in on the deal. The involved healthcare professionals then gave the attorneys a $1,500-2,500 reward.
Several of the implicated attorneys are also accused of misappropriating portions of their clients’ case settlements, essentially embezzling them. In all, the involved parties walked away from their gratuitous scam with upwards of $521,000 in profit from these cases.
There’s no issue with professionals referring potential clients to their friends or peers, but it is unethical and illegal to do so for financial compensation. Florida (among other states) has been attempting to prevent and criminalize various forms of patient/client brokering for quite some time.
Back in May, a bill was passed criminalizing the brokering of people struggling with addiction into recovery centers by healthcare providers. It also expanded the definition of “client brokering” under the law, which very well may come into play in the cases of these attorneys and their accomplices.
In terms of the healthcare professionals, their actions are in direct violation of the Florida Patient Brokering Statute: Florida Statutes Section 817.505. The law states:
(1) It is unlawful for any person, including any health care provider or health care facility, to:
(a) Offer or pay any commission, bonus, rebate, kickback, or bribe, directly or indirectly, in cash or in kind, or engage in any split-fee arrangement, in any form whatsoever, to induce the referral of patients or patronage to or from a health care provider or health care facility;
(b) Solicit or receive any commission, bonus, rebate, kickback, or bribe, directly or indirectly, in cash or in kind, or engage in any split-fee arrangement, in any form whatsoever, in return for referring patients or patronage to or from a health care provider or health care facility;
(c) Solicit or receive any commission, bonus, rebate, kickback, or bribe, directly or indirectly, in cash or in kind, or engage in any split-fee arrangement, in any form whatsoever, in return for the acceptance or acknowledgement of treatment from a health care provider or health care facility; or
(d) Aid, abet, advise, or otherwise participate in the conduct prohibited under paragraph (a), paragraph (b), or paragraph (c).
How to Avoid Playing Into the Game
This blog post is not intended to discourage anyone from accepting recommendations for attorneys or healthcare providers, but it is a reminder to do your homework. Check up on references, browse as many client reviews as possible, and be sure to do at least a cursory search of the individual or firm in Google’s ‘News’ section to find out if they’ve been involved in a scandal in the past.
The clients of these individuals mentioned throughout the post are not facing any legal repercussions. That said, they are left to question the level of advice, service, care they received and may have been cheated out of settlement money. Additionally, it never feels good to realize you’ve been duped or manipulated. We don’t want this to happen to you.
Experience You Can Trust
If you have been involved in an accident and need help with a personal injury claim, contact Cressman Law Firm, P.A. today at (407) 877-7317 to schedule a free consultation. We’ll explain your options and help you get started on the road to recovery.