If you have been following this blog, you might start thinking that I do not have a high regard for other attorneys who practice in the area of personal injury in Colorado. Actually, that is not true. I think there are a number of very dedicated legal professionals working hard for their clients. However, after eighteen years of practicing law, I have certainly run into my share of lazy, unmotivated and uncaring lawyers doing their clients a disservice. Usually, I learn the most about other lawyer's actions (or inactions) when the client fires that lawyer and brings their case to me. Accordingly, what sticks out most in my mind are the acts of not-so-good attorneys who do a disservice to our profession and to their clients. Accordingly, I am very comfortable sharing a great question you can ask your personal injury attorney that will reveal a lot about whose "best interest" they plan on representing.
First, here is the question that should reveal all:
Question: "Once settlement is reached, how often do you find yourself filing actions in court to get a judicial ruling on the reasonableness of doctor or hospital charges?"
I have just given you the secret handshake which will reveal the quality and level of commitment that your lawyer has to, what should be his number-one priority, you.
As innocuous as this question might sound, the answer will tell you everything. The reason this question is so important, and the answer reveals so much, is because of the way truck and auto injury accidents have been adjudicated under Colorado law since the law changes of July, 2003.
Since July, 2003, a person in an automobile collision is completely on his own to get medical and rehabilitative treatment. Injured people with health insurance will have their care paid for through their insurance. People without health insurance are forced to go without care, or secure agreements with either doctor's offices or medical lien companies to get their treatment provided. Whoever is advancing the payment of your healthcare, whether it is an insurance company or a doctor who is providing care on a lien; on settlement of the injury case, there will be an obligation to pay these providers. When health insurance is involved this is called a "right of subrogation." When hospitals seek their billing being paid back it is call a "hospital lien." When a doctor wants his treatment paid after a settlement occurs, it is called a "claimed right of interest." The bottom line is, that once an injured person settles his/her case, it is really only the beginning of everyone's hands coming out to get paid.
At our firm we say "it isn't what we settle for that is important, it is what our client gets to keep that makes a difference."
Now, with that history, I need to explain how lawyers get paid. If the lawyer settles the auto accident claim against the at-fault party's auto insurance, he will take his contingency fee (usually 33-40%) right off the top. If the settlement is, for example, $50,000.00, after the attorney fees are paid there will be perhaps $30,000.00 remaining to payback the doctors/hospitals or perhaps the health insurance, not to mention to compensate the accident victim. Every penny saved in negotiating with the doctors, hospitals, or insurance companies, provides more money for the injured person. However, at this stage, the motivation for some attorneys is a problem. THEY HAVE ALREADY BEEN PAID. The client benefits entirely from his lawyer being aggressive in their negotiating at this juncture.
My firm has negotiated thousands of insurance companies, doctors, and hospitals down to the lowest re-payment figures imaginable. And we have even angered some of these providers with the lengths with which we will go to get a reduction. Why? Because, we know that for our clients it is not the amount of the settlement that matters, IT IS WHAT THEY GET TO KEEP THAT IS IMPORTANT. We consider this, such an important part of our job that we will often get into heated battles with doctors, hospitals, and insurance companies as to how much they should take off of their bill. In fact, our firm has filed hundreds of actions to seek judicial review and resolution of disputes with healthcare providers or health insurance companies who would not agree to voluntarily reduce their charges. These judicial proceedings are called INTERPLEADER ACTIONS and have resulted in our clients receiving many thousands of dollars of additional money in their settlements that they otherwise would not have recovered.
To my surprise, I have learned that MANY attorneys and firms have resolved as many or nearly as many cases as our firm, and have NEVER FOUGHT with a healthcare provider or an insurance company to the point of seeking a judicial review. I started wondering why? Then it occurred to me. The reason why we fight so hard is because we remember who it is we are suppose to represent. It appears that other firms are content with not squeezing every dollar possible into the client's hands. There is also the problem with lawyers not feeling like there is any incentive for them to get contentious with a doctor or a health insurance company, especially since the attorney has ALREADY BEEN PAID.
If your ask the above question and get the answer, "well, I have never had to take such action," it is a fair bet that the reason that attorney has never had to seek a judicial resolution is because he does not care how much money is returned to his client nearly as much as he cares about NOT ROCKING THE BOAT or at least moving QUICKLY onto the next money-making opportunity.
If you come across an attorney like this, particularly with all the very good attorneys in Colorado, you should strongly consider not hiring that attorney.
At Anderson, Hemmat & McQuinn, we will answer your questions straightforward and our initial consultation is always free.