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What can Michigan learn from Florida’s experience with legal, medical attorney referral services?

Attorney Matthew Dolman and the FL Attorney General’s ‘Consent Judgment’ with ‘411-PAIN’ offer lessons  into the ‘411 pain legal and medical referral service in… Florida’

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan says lawyer billboard advertising and auto accident victim solicitation are costing the city.

Last Tuesday, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan warned the Michigan Senate Insurance Committee about the costs that aggressive attorney billboard advertising and solicitation of car accident victims, combined with legal and medical referral services was costing the city of Detroit.

It raises the question, what exactly can Michigan and Detroit learn from Florida’s experience? A lot, it appears.

While I share my friend Matt Dolman’s blog about  Florida “411-PAIN ” below, the lawsuit that the Florida Attorney General filed against “411-PAIN” and the “Stipulated Consent Final Judgment” entered into by “411-PAIN” and the Florida AG, the problem really goes far beyond this.

In fact, the point of today’s blog post has nothing to do with 411 Pain or, in Michigan, its Motor City Accident Attorneys affiliated law firm.  The point of today’s blog is about several attorney and medical referral services that have sprung up in Michigan and are a big driver of auto insurance costs in cities like Detroit.

My friend and Clearwater, Florida attorney Matthew Dolman recently wrote an eye-opening blog post, “The Truth About 411-Pain and Lawyer Referral Services”.  By way of background, both Dolman and I were at one time approached to participate in 411 Pain. Both of us declined. Afterward, Dolman writes of his experiences and makes the following observations:

  • Despite advertisements touting “an exclusive, select group of attorneys,” there is no disclosure to the public that “lawyers who opt to become members of 411-Pain must pay a fee to participate and receive cases within the network” or “that lawyers who opt to be members of the 411-Pain network do not possess any special skills or abilities as compared to non-members. The only difference is that the members chose to pay a lawyer referral service to obtain cases.”
  • An “‘attorney liaison’ for 411-Pain” explained to Dolman that attorneys “would have to pay a fee (I believe it was monthly) and we would receive cases either directed or referred to us by a call center. Thus, someone in a call center was making the determination of where the client would be sent. One can assume, that the individual in the call center is neither an attorney or physician. Thus, how would this individual know what is best for the prospective auto accident victim.”
  • “Does 411 Pain look out for Your Best Interests? … Another question raised is whether 411 Pain will send you to the very best health care professional for your case or simply a member of their expansive network of physicians. This is no different than the attorneys that comprise the 411 Pain network. Who determined that these are the best lawyers? The answer is that these are the lawyers who opted to pay 411 Pain to become a member of their network.”

411-PAIN and the Florida Attorney General

Dolman isn’t the only Florida attorney who has had an issue with the business practices of Florida “411-PAIN.”

In June 2012, the Florida Attorney General filed a complaint against “1-800-411-PAIN REFERRAL SERVICES, LLC,” which the complaint described as “a lawyer and chiropractic referral service …”

The complaint alleged the following against “411-PAIN”:

  • “Defendant misrepresents and misleads consumers to believe that Defendant directs or refers the consumer to a ‘qualified’ attorney or ‘specialized’ attorney, leading consumers to believe they are being referred by Defendant to an attorney who specializes in the type of injury or accident they have sustained.”
  • “Defendant misrepresents to consumers that Defendant has physicians on staff who specialize in certain areas of medicine.”

A “Stipulated Consent Final Judgment” was entered which provided that “411-PAIN” “SHALLL NOT” [Emphasis in original]:

  • “Use any advertising that promises any specific amount of monetary reward.”
  • “Make any misrepresentation or mislead an individual to believe that [“411-PAIN”] is directing the consumer to a ‘specialized’ attorney, leading consumers to believe they are being referred by [“411-PAIN”] to an attorney who specializes in the type of injury or accident they have sustained, regardless of the area in which the attorney specializes.”

Additionally, the “Stipulated Consent Final Judgment” ordered “411-PAIN” to:

  • “Modify any websites and all other online advertising … utilizing a “Find a Lawyer” section or equivalent service to reflect only currently licensed lawyers and not doctors or chiropractors or other individuals who are not licensed to practice law …”
  • Pay $75,000 in attorney fees and investigative fees.
  • Pay a $550,000 “charitable donation” to the Broward Health Foundation and the Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital Foundation.

Are Florida ‘411-PAIN’ and Michigan ‘411-PAIN’ related?

It appears so.

  • Based on the following, Florida “411-PAIN” appears to be the same thing as Michigan “411-PAIN.”
  • Florida “411-PAIN” and Michigan “411-PAIN” (websites targeting Detroit, Southfield, Ann Arbor, Flint, Lansing, Romulus, Westland, Rochester Hills, Dearborn, Troy, Battle Creek, and Taylor)  and “Motor City Accident Attorneys” have the same phone numbers “1-800-411-PAIN” (7246).
  • Florida “411-PAIN” websites and Michigan “411-PAIN” websites have the same layout, formatting, photos and graphics.
  • Florida “411-PAIN” websites, such as the one for Delray Beach, Florida, tout that “411 Pain has offices located throughout Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Minnesota, and Tennessee. In cities such as: Delray Beach, Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, West Palm Beach, Naples, Ocala, Orlando, Tampa, Gainesville, Jacksonville, Tallahassee, Ft. Myers, Atlanta GA, Memphis TN, Minneapolis MN, Detroit MI.”
  • Individual blog posts on the Michigan “411-PAIN” websites have the following statement at the top: “411 PAIN LEGAL AND MEDICAL REFERRAL SERVICE IN FLORIDA.” [Emphasis added]
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