Academy of Chiropractic’s Doctors PI Program
From the Desk of :
Mark Studin DC, FASBE (C), DAAPM, DAAMLP
“The Lawyer Ignored my Lien”
Then Disbursed the Settlement Money Excluding Me
“How Do I Get Paid?”
This really isn’t about revenge, it just felt good to say to say that in the graphic above. What it is about, is not getting screwed by lawyers who you thought were on your side. Once you understand that the lawyer represents the client first, themselves second (at least that is the way is supposed to be) and the chiropractor after the hospitals and all medical specialists. That means you look to see who was last and then you are after that…. OY!!!!!
Prior to understanding how to get paid from a lawyer who ignored your lien you must have read consultations #62 and #63 in the Infrastructure section on the consulting site at the home page. Those consultations will give you the legal mechanisms to get paid even if you are being ignored.
Being ignored means that the lawyer settled the case, determined what their expenses were and paid themselves first, then paid any liens they choose and then… take their 1/3 and give the client their 2/3 of the balance. However, some more aggressive (greedy) lawyers, take their disbursement off the top, then take their 1/3 and THEN pay the liens and give the patient the balance. In many states that is illegal, but certain lawyers do not care because no one knows.
In the end, the lawyer wins because they control the money flow and can intimidate you with the rules, UNLESS you understand the law and become the enforcer. It is here where you ensure you get paid what you are due.
Once you have your lien or letter of protection in place, then you have a binding contract with that lawyer if it is executed by the patient and I strongly recommend you have a witness countersign it (a staff member will suffice). By law in all 50 states, the lawyer is bound by your contract (lien – letter of protection) and you have a valid legal instrument to get paid BEFORE the lawyer takes any money. I am also working on getting an updated lien form that has stronger language to insure you get paid although it is virtually impossible to have a 50-state solution with one document due to local court rulings. Please check the “Forms and Communication” section of the Web site after April 1, 2017 for updated suggested language.
As a matter of business, I strongly suggest that starting 90 days at the beginning of care of a personal injury case on lien or letter of protection that every 60 days, you calendar to call the attorney to check the status of the case. The purpose of this is to ensure that money is not distributed to everybody but you. In addition, it will help you stay in touch with the local attorneys and give you an opportunity to get updated CVs to the lawyer as a quiet way of marketing.
Should the money been dispersed and you not paid, you must remind a lawyer that they had a valid lien or letter of protection in their possession verified by both U.S. Mail certified return receipt and fax receipt and that they receive those documents timely. Thus, it is their responsibility to ensure that your liens are paid and they must go back to the patient and their own personal bank account and satisfy your lien as per contract. I also suggest you not put anything in writing so that you do not make an error that will legally allow the attorney to not pay you and in your naïveté of the law you will give them the documentation in your demand/threat letter. This should always to be done via conversation. There is also no negotiation or conversation other than “pay my bill” and then cut the conversation off. I am not interested in apologies or I will make it up to you in the next case. They screwed you once and most definitely will screw you again. I have seen that over and over in the past 37 years in 47 states.
Should the lawyer have not paid your lien or letter of protection you then tell the lawyer that you are giving them three business days to deliver a check to your office or you’ll be rendering an ethics complaint to the State Bar against their license and you will be concurrently retaining counsel to take legal action in court for recovery of your full fees. At this point in time, there is no 1/3 rule of you getting paid. You get paid 100% regardless of any formula.
Many lawyers will not get on the phone with you because they know they did something wrong and will hope you will go away because most doctors are afraid of lawyers. In this situation leave a very carefully worded message with your secretary about both the ethics complaint against their license and a lawsuit against them. In most instances, you will get paid rather quickly. There are some states which have convoluted “lien laws” and as always you must know the full extent of the lien laws in your state before you accept any personal injury cases.
Missouri and other conservative states for example, have very challenging lien laws that favor the insurance companies and lawyers where the more liberal states such as New York and Washington favor the doctor and the patient. This is not a political statement as much as it is a notice for those doctors living in the conservative states that you must do your homework at a more complete level. However, every doctor must know the full breadth of the law because it is your business and are the rules we all must follow, including the lawyer when it comes to dispersing fees.
Should you get screwed by the lawyer and not follow through with your threats, then be prepared to be screwed on a regular basis by most lawyers in your community as lawyers often talk. Strangely enough, it is those doctors in the program who fight the hardest that get the most referrals from the legal community. This type of stance garners respect from lawyers and will also weed out the ones you should not work with.