Illegal direct solicitations to potential clients, sometimes through third parties, are out of control in some parts of Florida, according to a member of the Bar Board of Governors.
Board member Greg Coleman of West Palm Beach told the board last month, during a report by Lawyer Referral Services Special Committee Chair Grier Wells, that personal injury solicitations are a huge problem and damaging the profession. He encouraged lawyers to file Bar grievances when they encounter the practice.
“In our circuit, it’s out of control in terms of the illegal, unethical, improper solicitation of personal injury of clients,” Coleman said. “It’s becoming epidemic and when I say that, I’m not saying it lightly.
“A lawyer I have a lot of respect for knew a family that was involved in a horrific accident on the turnpike. They were contacted by phone at least seven times in the four days after this accident by seven different people seeking to put them in the hands of a lawyer, not a chiropractor or a medical provider.
“I don’t know if this is going on elsewhere in the state, but if it is . . . I would encourage you to encourage the people in your circuit to file Bar complaints,” he added.
Coleman said he knows of a second case where a lawyer told him a client had been contacted shortly after an accident. He said the issue is critical because the public will associate all lawyers with the bad actions of a few.
“It’s illegal; it’s a felony to do this in some instances,” Coleman said. “Help us curtail this.”
Wells told the board that his committee has heard of several similar problems during public hearings on lawyer and medical referral services. The problems aren’t confined to lawyers, he added.
Wells said he was contacted days before the meeting by a woman “who just quit working for an injury health network and its sole business was getting accident reports, calling people, and referring them to doctors within the 60-day period where that’s illegal. It’s pervasive; it’s not just in south Florida. It’s throughout the state.”
The special committee has received testimony at its two public hearings that some referral services are a front for improper solicitations. Wells said many referral services appear geared toward getting PIP benefits for people injured in car accidents and sometimes people who have called for referrals to doctors have been told they must also sign up with an attorney.
Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater has appointed a special PIP fraud study group, Wells said, and has named Wells as a member because of his work with the Bar special committee.
The special committee was scheduled to meet again November 11 in Tampa, Wells said, and was to begin discussing solutions to the problems it identified in the public hearings.