Billboards, pop-up ads, Facebook feeds – everywhere you look, there are lawyers offering “No Fee Unless We Win,” and claims that they can collect “Billions of Dollars.” They call you at the hospital, they want to come to your house, they offer to give you money, they send you to “their doctor.” With this cacophony, it’s useful to know how to avoid scams when seeking an accident attorney. When seeking a reputable accident attorney, the first place to look is at the venerable firms in your area that have been serving the community for generations. These prestigious firms that are sustained and grown mostly by referrals are usually the most trustworthy. Scammers and shysters are often “fly by night” and looking for short term gain. Many of these attorneys end up losing their licenses after investigations reveal their unethical practices. There’s only so long you can continue to break the law and ethics rules before getting caught, whereas reputable attorneys want satisfied clients to build their practices for themselves and future generations.
MEDICAL MILL SCAMS
One of the worst scams are attorneys that are affiliated with medical offices, as this is a major ethical violation! (This should not be confused with a reputable attorney referring a client to a doctor, there’s nothing wrong with this.) With the “medical mill” scam, a representative from a medical office approaches an injured person after an accident and convinces him to go to their medical office, and among the forms to fill out is a retainer for an attorney that the patient has never met! These medical facilities usually what’s referred to as “mills,” with low-quality care, and “cookie-cutter” treatment where every “patient” is referred for every specialty they have to increase their billing to the insurance company. Victims of “medical mill” scams may not find out that they have signed up with an attorney until they have a consultation with a reputable accident attorney, who is informed of this when they request medical records. It’s simple to change lawyers at this time by signing a “consent to change attorney” form. Sometimes a victim doesn’t find out they have an attorney until the medical office presents them with papers to sign, releasing their claims for a certain amount of money. Settlement documents are often presented without any explanation of the law, the rights they are giving up when they sign or the amount of money they will be collecting after expenses, attorneys fees and liens are deducted from the gross amount of the settlement!
PLAINTIFF FUNDING SCAMS
Another common scam, is to give clients money up front in exchange for handling their accident case, either directly or through “plaintiff funding” companies. It is an ethical violation for an attorney or a medical facility to pay people to use their services, and this is why the “plaintiff funding” companies have become so popular. “Plaintiff funding” is legal, but it carries an extremely high-interest rate, and reputable accident attorneys will only recommend it when there is an emergency such as a pending eviction or inability to pay school tuition. Clients that accept “plaintiff funding” in the absence of an emergency as usually very unhappy to discover that when their case is finally settled for an appropriate amount, most of the money is going to the lawyers and the plaintiff funding company.
DECEPTIVE FINANCIAL PRACTICES
A reputable attorney will always propose a settlement to the client, never presenting a settlement as a “fait accompli.” Additionally, when a settlement is proposed, a client should receive a “breakdown,” showing clearly how the proceeds of the settlement will be disbursed, and exactly how the client will be receiving. It should look something like this:
TOTAL SETTLEMENT $100,000
ATTORNEY FEES $33,333
CLIENT RECEIVES $66,666
The attorney should prepare a letter for you with these breakdown figures, so you can make sure that you receive the proper amount when you pick up your check.
NEVER MEETING THE LAWYER
This is not exactly a scam, but many accident lawyers are now skipping the step of meeting clients and asking that their retainer executed via e-mail. Accident lawyers do not bill for their time, so the less they do, the time they have for other cases. Reputable accident lawyers want to meet their clients, they are looking to establish a relationship and for future referrals of family and friends. There are so many accident attorneys in New York City, why trust your financial future to somebody that doesn’t even want to bother to meet you. It’s not hard to avoid the scams described above once you are aware of them. A few good questions will help you avoid scams when seeking an accident attorney. For a free consultation, please feel free to call us at 718-261-8114 or click here.