Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Florida CFO Jeff Atwater calls for ban on referral services like 1-800-ASK-GARY

Florida Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater on Tuesday called for a ban on accident lawyer referral services, like 1-800-ASK-GARY and 411-PAIN, which have proliferated on television, Facebook and other media in recent years.

Atwater's Department of Financial Services has been investigating referral services for several years, examining whether close ties among for-profit referral services, lawyers and pain clinics have led to fraudulent over-treatment of accident victims that drives up the cost of auto insurance.

"My department has received many confidential tips regarding the incestuous interactions between the participants in these referral services,'' Atwater wrote in a letter to Scott Hawkins, president of the Florida Bar.

"I am appalled by the fact that these individuals, disguised as legitimate referral services, have been able to prey on society for so long.''

Atwater did not name any specific referral service, but urged the Florida Bar to ban all of them. The Bar has no regulatory authority over pain clinics or referral services but can forbid lawyers from any dealings with them.

A referral service sends accident victims to lawyers who pay the service a monthly fee and sometimes refer their clients to pain clinics owned by or associated with those running the referral service.

This sets up a "quid pro quo environment,'' Atwater told the St. Petersburg Times. Lawyers might not send clients where they get the best treatment, Atwater said, but to clinics associated with the referral service.

For example, Ask Gary was founded by Sarasota chiropractor Gary Kompothecras, who is also associated with a string of for-profit clinics that treat accident victims. Bar records show that some of Tampa Bay's best-know litigation firms pay Ask Gary for referrals.

"I'm not making any particular allegations against the players,'' Atwater said, "but you cannot help but question the potential for a quid pro quo between the treating agency and the attorneys that are sending them the business.''

Ask Gary attorney Greg Zitani said Atwater's move is part of an attack by the insurance industry, which is "more concerned with their profits than with the health care needs of the people of Florida.''

Lawyers who pay Ask Gary for referrals sometimes refer clients to other clinics, Zitani said. "We would welcome more regulation to eliminate fraud and unethical behavior in our industry,'' Zitani said in a statement.

Florida has about 70 auto accident referral services, including some not registered with the Bar, which is studying whether new rules are needed. Recommendations are expected next year.

Bar president Scott Hawkins did not comment. Neither did Robert Lewin, founder of 411-PAIN, a South Florida chain that has auto accident clinics in the Tampa Bay area.

Meanwhile, Atwater and Gov. Rick Scott called on legislators to reform Florida's no-fault auto insurance system, in which every driver must carry at least $10,000 in Personal Injury Protection insurance. Clinics, doctors and hospitals use that money to treat victims, regardless of who is at fault.

Florida has about the same number of drivers and fewer crashes since 2006, yet payment on PIP claims rose 66 percent, Scott and Atwater said. Some of the increase is from staged accidents. PIP lawsuits have increased 387 percent in that time.

"Regrettably, our state's auto insurance system has been taken over by a circling pool of piranha — fraud clinics, lawyer referral services and organized crime,'' Atwater said in a statement.

If the Bar does not ban lawyer referral services, Atwater said the Legislature should act.

Florida CFO Jeff Atwater calls for ban on referral services like 1-800-ASK-GARY 11/15/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 16, 2011 8:23am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. 10 National Monuments the Interior Department Wants to Shrink or Modify

    Nation

    Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has proposed that President Donald Trump make changes to 10 national monuments, including Bears Ears in southern Utah, according to a memo addressed to the White House.

  2. At UN, Trump threatens 'total destruction' of North Korea (w/video)

    World

    UNITED NATIONS — President Donald Trump, in a combative debut speech to the U.N. General Assembly, threatened the "total destruction'" of North Korea if it does not abandon its drive toward nuclear weapons.

    United States President Donald Trump prepares to speak during the United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters, Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017. [Associated Press]
  3. Grocery chain Aldi hiring for 500 positions across Florida

    Retail

    Aldi, the German grocery store chain, is hiring for 500 positions across Florida, including at its locations in Tampa Bay. The company will hold a "one-day hiring spree" Thursday from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. at all Aldi stores in the state, a Tuesday release said.

    Aldi, a German grocery store chain, is hiring for 500 positions across the state. | [Times file photo]
  4. Hurricane Maria, with 160 mph winds, could devastate Puerto Rico by Wednesday morning

    Hurricanes

    ROSEAU, Dominica — Hurricane Maria smashed into Dominica with 160 mph winds, ripping the roof off even the prime minister's residence and causing what he called "mind-boggling" devastation …

    This Monday, Sept. 18, 2017, GOES East satellite image provided by NASA taken at 20:30 UTC, shows the eye of Hurricane Maria as it nears Dominica. The National Hurricane Center in Miami said Monday evening that Air Force Reserve hurricane hunter planes found that Maria had strengthened into a storm with 160 mph (260 kph) winds. [NASA via AP]
  5. A botched surgery left a barber with erectile dysfunction. Decades later, he took revenge.

    The old man booked his appointment under an alias.

    In this July 27, 2017 file photo, Stanwood Fred Elkus, accused of shooting and killing his doctor at the doctor's office in Newport Beach in 2013, is wheeled into Orange County Superior Court in Santa Ana, Calif.