FLORIDA BAR ETHICS OPINION
May 28, 1968
Advisory ethics opinions are not binding.
An attorney holding settlement funds or judgment proceeds for a client who previously assigned a
portion thereof to a physician and thereafter repudiated the assignment should institute an
appropriate interpleader action.
Chairman MacDonald stated the opinion of the committee:
A member of The Florida Bar advises as follows:
In a plaintiff’s personal injury case, after obtaining settlement or collecting the
proceeds of a judgment, the client, who has previously executed a medical
assignment form for the payment of unpaid medical bills for medical services
incurred in connection with injuries sustained in an accident, specifically withdraws
authority from the attorney to retain a portion of the proceeds for the purpose of
paying the medical bills.
In accordance with instructions of the client, after payment of the attorney’s fees
and legal costs, the proceeds are distributed to the client. The medical bills are not
paid by the client. The doctor then makes demand upon the attorney for payment of
Is the attorney personally obligated to pay the doctor’s bill? In the face of a
withdrawal of the authority to pay the unpaid medical bills, is the attorney at liberty
to withhold from the client’s proceeds a sum sufficient to pay the doctor’s bill and is
he at liberty to, in fact, make said payment in the face of the client’s instructions?
The first question as to whether the attorney is personally obligated to pay the physician is,
of course, one of law and is beyond the jurisdiction of this Committee.
With reference to the second question, which in effect seeks instruction as to the ethical
course of conduct to be followed when the client withdraws authority to pay the physician while the
attorney is holding the funds of this settlement, an ethical question within our jurisdiction is
presented. It is our belief that a lawyer confronted with this dilemma should initially endeavor to
assist his client and the physician in effecting a compromise. Failing at this effort, it is our belief
that the lawyer should institute an interpleader action in a court of competent jurisdiction naming
his client and the physician as defendants. Naturally it would not be necessary for the interpleader to
involve any portion of the settlement funds in excess of the demands of the physician.
Many bar associations and medical societies have resolved problems of this type by
adopting voluntary codes setting forth guidelines to be followed by their members in resolving such
We emphasize that this opinion does not consider a situation in which the debts of the
physician arise from a contract effectuated between the physician and the attorney.