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When personal injury lawyers cross the line

No wonder so many doctors won’t accept car accident victims as patients

I often write about how badly Michigan auto insurance companies treat their customers. After all, I have a lot to write about. Michigan is a state without any protections to hold insurance companies accountable for abusing people, such as bad faith laws or punitive damages. Also, the Michigan Consumer Protection Act cannot be used by No-Fault insurance lawyers against insurance companies who unfairly deny legitimate claims (which makes zero sense).

As a personal injury lawyer, I see horrible things nearly every day. I see insurance companies that refuse to pay for surgeries and critical medical care. I see them refuse to pay for wheelchairs. I see adjusters routinely send people for one-time “cut-off” exams to crooked insurance medical exam (IME) doctors who never find anything wrong with people who have legitimate and very serious injuries.

Many adjusters today like to simply say someone’s claim is “under investigation” and the insurance company just stops paying for everything – attendant care benefits, wage loss, medical bills. Sadly, the list goes on. The people who tend to agree with me most when I write about insurance company abuse stories are the claims adjusters out there who are regular readers of my blog.

Most people tend to want to believe that something like this can never happen to them – usually until it’s too late.

Personal injury lawyers taking attorney fees on medical bills that they have not earned

But plaintiff personal injury lawyers can cross the line as well. I’ve written about the crooked attorney/chiropractor game before. But another game that happens quite often is when attorneys assert a big lien on voluntary pay of doctor’s bills.

What I increasingly see today is some Michigan personal injury lawyers asserting an attorney fee that they haven’t earned on open auto accident claims from medical providers – doctors and hospitals – that are providing medical care to people that have been injured in auto accidents. These are open claims that are not in dispute and are not in litigation, where the insurance company is still paying what is being submitted under the No-Fault law from these medical providers.

Unlike auto attorneys sometimes charging to set up, process, and handle the claim for their clients – which can often be a smart move that can prevent a lot of problems from occurring in the future that can effect value in the third-party (tort) case – these attorney claims on medical are different.

This means the injury lawyer is telling the insurance company to send the checks to his or her office, and he or she is then disbursing them to the treating doctors after taking an attorney fee — often 1/3 of the undisputed amount.

I even know of one lawyer who is having his associates tell doctors he should be entitled to take 50 percent. I guess this will continue until someone complains to the attorney grievance commission. But, whether it is 1/3 or 50 percent, it is wrong. In either case, the personal injury lawyer is sending a letter to the treating doctors saying he represents them, and then passes on the 2/3 portion to the doctor of what he submitted as his bill to the insurance company.

Michigan doctors react when some personal injury lawyers assert liens

And the doctors go crazy when this happens. I can’t say I blame them. If you did your job well, and sent a bill for your time and then someone stepped in out of the blue and took 1/3 of your money and then sent you a check for 2/3, you’d probably get pretty mad about it too.

Unfortunately, this is also starting to cause some major problems.

In some areas of Michigan today, car accident victims are being turned away by doctors who don’t want to see auto accident patients anymore. The combination of hassle and paperwork from auto insurance companies, and personal injury lawyers taking fees on outstanding medical bills is causing many doctors to refuse to provide medical care for people injured in auto accidents.

Auto insurance companies targeting doctors treating “expensive” injuries like mild traumatic brain injury

Now, combine this with what some insurance companies are doing. I can’t prove it, but ask any personal injury lawyer in Michigan today and they will tell you that certain auto insurance companies are clearly targeting certain doctors who treat certain types of injuries that the insurance companies don’t like, and deliberately giving these doctors a very hard time.

These insurance companies are also doing just about everything they can to avoid paying these doctors their bills. I see it mostly with doctors who are treating injured car accident victims for mtbi – mild traumatic brain injury.

Keep in mind, mild is the medical classification for these brain injuries, but the effects on people can be absolutely devastating. The insurance companies know that there are only a small handful of doctors, especially neuropsychologists, who treat traumatic brain injuries (TBI) outside of the hospitals in this state. I believe, just like every other personal injury lawyer in Michigan who handles car accidents, that these insurance companies are intentionally trying to drive these doctors out, knowing if they do, it will save them millions of dollars every year in treatment costs. Sadly, there are many people who have been injured in car accidents who have serious brain injuries that cannot find a doctor to provide care in their area of the state.

Again, I cannot prove it. But I can name a handful of doctors who have also been put under “investigation” by certain insurance companies in recent years. The only reason that I can see for it is that these were doctors who cared about their patients, and were providing good medical care for injuries that insurance companies don’t like (such as TBI), that are often hard to prove and expensive for insurance companies.

This rather ugly combination, I fear, is creating the perfect storm that I now see developing, where it is becoming very hard to receive any medical care and treatment for injuries from car accidents. The combination of greed by BOTH personal injury lawyers looking for easy money on doctor and hospital bills and insurance companies looking to avoid paying out, is causing many doctors to just turn away people who need care. These doctors are saying “to hell with it” and there are easier ways to practice medicine.

This is really bad for everyone in Michigan, especially injured car accident victims.

An easy fix for doctors to stop abuse from some Michigan personal injury lawyers

There is a somewhat easy fix – at least as far as my fellow personal injury lawyers go. If this happens to you as a doctor, send a letter immediately to the insurance company and to the lawyer indicating that the lawyer does not represent you and should not be taking a fee on your bill.

Also, keep in mind that sometimes a lawyer should take a fee on your bill. If, for example, a lawsuit should be filed to protect your bill, then there is often tremendous work and costs that the lawyer must undertake to get your bill paid, and you should not expect that personal injury lawyer to work for free. If you don’t like it, you do have the right to hire your own attorney to represent you to collect your bill. And hey, look on the bright side, a 2/3 portion after litigation is still a heck of a lot better than Medicare reimbursement rates, right?

As far as insurance companies go, sadly the only thing that can make them start paying people and doctors as they should – i.e. as they are required to by law – is for our legislature to give No-Fault insurance lawyers to ability to sue insurance companies in Michigan for bad faith or punitive damages, or under the consumer protection act, when they egregiously deny clearly valid and legitimate claims. And with a Republican legislature, governor, and supreme court in this state, fat chance of that happening anytime soon.

Steve Gursten is one of the nation’s top personal injury lawyers. He is head of Michigan Auto Law and has received the highest verdict in the state for a car accident or truck accident victim in 2008, 2009 and 2010.

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Michigan Auto Law is the largest law firm exclusively handling car accident, truck accident and motorcycle accident cases throughout the entire state. We have offices in Farmington Hills, Detroit, Ann Arbor, Grand Rapids and Sterling Heights to better serve you. Call (800) 777-0028 for a free consultation with one of our personal injury lawyers.

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