Here’s an insight into personal injury protection (PIP) lawsuits that plaintiff PIP attorneys don’t want you to know: They sue for the money that they will make – not for their clients.
Case in point: Attorney Timothy Allen Patrick, whom the Florida Supreme Court ordered suspended for one year for his mishandling of a PIP lawsuit for a chiropractor. The court said in a decision released June 23, 2011, that Patrick “had encouraged his client to proceed with the cases and not accept the offer at mediation because [he] wanted to be paid his attorney’s fees.”
Patrick’s misdeeds show just how far PIP attorneys will go to collect the money they want and how little they care about their clients. Attorneys like Patrick demonstrate that contrary to the oath they take to practice law in Florida, they are willing to put their clients at financial risk.
Patrick broke several rules, and it wasn’t the first time. In handing down the one-year suspension, the Florida Supreme Court wrote that he had “previously been before this Court for the same form of serious misconduct, and he has now harmed three clients by his continued misdeeds.”
The Florida Bar brought a complaint against Patrick in November 2009 over his handling of two PIP claims by a chiropractor, Dr. Newman, against Progressive Insurance Co. The claims totaled $48. That’s right, just $48. Sound familiar?
When the claims reached mediation, Patrick said he had spent 60 hours on the case. His normal billing rate is $225 per hour, according to court records. (Clearly Patrick doesn’t practice in Dade and Broward counties where Judges award far in excess of $225 per hour for PIP cases).
Progressive offered $2,500 to settle the claim, with $48 going to Newman and the rest to Patrick. The Bar referee who investigated the complaint reported that “Newman could not have gained or benefited any more than the offer made at mediation.” So suing posed a financial danger to Newman, because if he lost, he would have to pay Progressive’s legal bills.
The referee found that Patrick pushed Newman to pursue the lawsuit, for which he won $24 on one claim and Patrick hit a payday of $120,772.50 based on his bill for 235.5 hours.
Progressive won the other case and the court awarded the insurance company $10,200 in legal fees and costs. Both sides appealed, with an appellate lawyer representing Newman.
Progressive won a first round of appeals, which meant that Newman didn’t get his $48 and was liable for Progressive’s much larger legal expenses. Patrick didn’t get paid because he took the case based on a winning contingency. If he didn’t win, he didn’t get paid.
Patrick, not Newman, hired a second attorney for more appeals. That attorney lost too, and Progressive sought payment from the chiropractor. When the bill came, Patrick refused to pay any of it.
In his investigation, the Bar referee found that Newman rejected the initial offer to settle based upon Patrick’s inducements so Patrick could pursue the full claim for attorney’s fees. Further, Patrick stretched out the litigation by paying some of the legal bills of the second appeals attorney.
This was not the first time that Patrick had been accused of such conduct. In handing down the one-year suspension and requiring the attorney to take an ethics course, the Florida Supreme Court found that Patrick failed to tell one client that her insurance company had won a $15,300 judgment against her for attorney’s fees and costs.
In another instance, Patrick did not tell his client, a doctor, that Progressive had offered a payment to settle. The claim went to court, where the client lost and had to pay Progressive $13,000.
The facts, read them at Florida Supreme Court’s website, show how PIP lawsuits can be so little about justice and so much about greed.