Academy of Chiropractic Personal Injury & Primary Spine Care Program
Quickie Consult 256
"Liens, Settlements and Your Fees"
A scorecard of who is on whose side and ensuring fair payement
Before you read this quickie consult, you need to read Consultation #94, "Liens, Liens and Liens," and understand the 1/3 rule in lien settlement. The first thing you have to understand is the players. There is the patient who has been injured, the lawyer who represents the patient and you, the doctor, who cares for the patient.
Our world of chiropractic or physical medicine, particularly if you employ PT's, is a very labor intensive environment where the patient has been under our care for 2-3-4 or 5 days a week for many months, in most cases. Therefore, you have SPENT LOTS OF MONEY to care for the patient in order for him/her to function and/or get well and for the lawyer to have the documentation to swoop in at the last minute to settle (the usual pathway) the case, putting in far less work and money than you. In the grand scheme of things, the lawyer spends the LEAST amount of time, energy and money in the process, but he/she controls the money. Therefore, he/she has all of the information and the relationship with his/her client of which you are usually not entitled to be part of. This means that you do not have the right to be privy to the settlement amount unless the patient gives permission.
The conversation between the lawyer and the patient (the lawyer's client), usually goes something like this, "Leave the doctor to me. He/she is not entitled to know the amount of the settlement and I will get a significant reduction in his/her bill because I can. Do not discuss any fees with your doctor as I am good at getting him/her to take much less so that you can keep more. It is my fiduciary responsibility to you." That is as close to verbatim as it comes. If...you think the bond between you and your patient is stronger than the bond between his/her attorney and his/her money, wake up!!!! He/she will love you all the way to the bank as he/she cashes the larger check and you cash your smaller one without losing 1 wink of sleep...I promise.
At the end of the case in disbursement of the fees, you have to hold tight to your policy of the 1/3 with verification of settlement numbers. Otherwise, you get your full fee and that is NON-NEGOTIABLE. IDNGARA how much the lawyer complains, carries on or threatens you. This is NON-NEGOTIABLE. Upon funds to be disbursed with a VALID LIEN, no money can be distributed without you signing off. If the funds are distributed without your permission in writing, the lawyer is subject to ethics charges and he/she knows that. IF the lawyer disburses the money without your permission, I urge you at the highest level to file an ethics charge against the lawyer's license and sue him/her as well as the patient. He/she is STEALING FROM YOU and is a crook instead of an officer of the court and must be brought to justice.
If the lawyer wants you to take less than your 1/3, I have no issue with that as long as it is the same reduction the lawyer is taking from his/her fee. This, too, is only upon verification with copies of checks to all parties. Again, NON-NEGOTIABLE. The lawyer will NOT want to do this and to that I say, "Too bad." Unfortunately, at this level, MOST lawyers will not be truthful with you (a.k.a. they lie through their teeth).
If the lawyer balks, threatens, yells, etc., your answer is simple. Politely tell him/her that until your lien issues are resolved, he/she cannot disburse any funds and you are willing to wait until he/she can get all parties to render full disclosure. He/she will not like it, but guess what? I don't like being lied to and taking less than my fee and certainly less than the 1/3 of the total settlement I offered in good faith as a team player.
REMEMBER, you have to be willing to walk away from the entire settlement or this will keep happening over and over as you have only a limited amount of lawyers in your locale and they all talk to each other. Be a team player, but let them know your policy up front and stand strong not to give in to the "bully lawyer" because you will just have to go through this next time and the time after that as your years in practice progress. Other lawyers in your area know who is difficult to work with within their profession and will respect you more for taking a stand against the bully lawyer. They can't stand them either!