Approximately three years ago I was involved in a traffic collision that resulted in a long term injury, two back surgeries and almost two years away from work. I hired a P/I attorney and a settlement was reached. The $ from the settlement was tranferred to my attorney, who in turn was supposed to pay the doctor bills.
However, my attorney was disbared shortly after the settlement. In the interim he hired a thrid party to negotiate my bills. It now appears that the third party has mishandled the $, since I am now receiving collection calls from some of the doctors who treated me.
Who is responsible for the financial settlement of the bills to my doctors?
What recourse do I have?
3 Answers from Attorneys
YOU are and always were responsible and liable for the medical bills. You were the patient, no matter who referred you. YOU owe the doctors unless the attorneys and the doctors entered into an enforceable agreement that they would look only to the attorney and your recovery he receives. Unlikely. If the doctors provided their services on 'lien only' basis, then they agreed to take only from your share of the PI recovery. Sometimes done, not often. Doctors always expect to be paid in full for services, and take patients that the attorney assures will recover enough to do so.
You may have a breach of agreement with the original and replacement attorneys as to their handling of the money, and potentially a 'fraud' claim if they mishandled it. IF the amount withheld by the original attorney was enough to fully pay all the bills, and they did not get paid, that is what your claim is about. If there was insufficient funds withheld to pay all the bills in full, and the attorneys can show they negotiated for the best reduction possible, and if they got reduction agreements, the bills should have been 'compromised', paid, and you would not be getting dunned on them.
This leaves the suspicion that the bills were not all compromised and reduced, either because doctors refused, or attempts were not made, or no payments were made. You'll have to figure out the truth before you can decide what can and should be done.
Contact the doctors and seek a copy of the correspondence with the attorneys, and their billing records to see what was paid and what was / is owed. Demand the same from the attorneys.
If you then believe the attorneys did something wrong or negligent, you can seek the help of the local Bar Association and its Fee Dispute panel. If you think there was actual misconduct you can make a complaint to the California Bar Association and seek their help.
You are going to have to consult with a new attorney. When an attorney is disbarred, he or she cannot practice law. Your money should have been held in trust until there was a disbursement between you, the attorney, and medical providers who may have had liens on the settlement. The new attorney is going to want to see your original fee agreement, and any documents that you signed with the attorney who was disbarred.
You are responsible to the providers for your medical bills regardless of mismanagement by your attorney.
Your attorney and very possibly the third party are responsible to you for any mismanagement of their obligations and your money.
I suggest that you contact the third party and the attorney to get an update on the status of your bills and the money they are holding. If you don’t get a satisfactory response within 24 hours, contact the State Bar of California. They are generally very good in assisting in situations like this.
You may also want to consult with an legal malpractice attorney.
Rarely do disbarred attorneys have “errors and omissions” insurance or any assets from which to recover a judgment. I’d bet that the attorney was disbarred for multiple violations and at least one of them is inappropriate use of trust funds. You can look him up on the State Bar’s website and see what he was disbarred for.
The State Bar has a client recovery fund to compensate you if the attorney has absconded with your money. See: http://www.calbar.ca.gov/Attorneys/LawyerRegulation/ClientSecurityFund.aspx for more information.
On behalf of all the great attorneys in this State, I apologize for the struggles you are having with an apparent “bad apple”.