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Doctor faces dilemma similar to cautious crash victims

The topic of this post was suggested by a local family doctor. After discussing a mutual patient/client with her, I brought up my newspaper column.  She immediately came up with a column topic.  She suggested that I write about the timing of hiring a lawyer, an issue she obviously struggles with in her medical practice.

It hadn’t occurred to me that crash victims would turn to their doctors for advice on how to handle their claims.  In hindsight, though, family doctors are obvious people to turn to for guidance.  They presumably have some knowledge about the system, because they play a part in it.  They have no financial interest in the outcome of a claim.  They are generally thought of as trusted professionals, and rightly so.

The struggle this doctor faces is related to the fear crash victims have about finding out about their rights.

I have learned from reader feedback that there’s a reluctance about consulting a lawyer for fear of getting on the insurance adjuster’s bad side. The fear even extends to the insurance adjuster finding out that a crash victim has read my column!  Perhaps taking any steps to learn about your rights feels like a move towards confrontation.

I wonder to what extent the insurance industry feeds that fear.  It must have some basis.  Why would that fear exist?  I suggested in a previous posting, though, that the fear is not reality.  I suggested that an insurance adjuster finding out that you are consulting with a lawyer might be a good thing, because the adjuster might then work extra hard to try to keep you from actually retaining the lawyer.

This doctor I was talking to, however, was speaking from experience, not perception.

She was also talking about hiring a lawyer, not just consulting with one.

She has patients who she knows need to be working with a lawyer.  They have asked her for advice in that regard.  It’s not so easy, though.  In her experience, there are consequences about hiring a lawyer.  In her experience, hiring a lawyer can mean her clients cannot get the treatments they need to get better.

It is her most vulnerable patients who present the problem.  They are the patients who cannot afford to pay for treatments on their own.  They need the financial help they are receiving from the insurance company.

In this doctor’s experience, hiring a lawyer means the financial help abruptly stops.  In this doctor’s experience, telephone calls and written requests to the adjuster to reinstate those benefits are futile.

On the one hand, the doctor knows that the case needs to be in the hands of a lawyer.  On the other hand, hiring a lawyer will cause the financial support needed to carry on with treatment to be cut off.  This is the struggle.  What is she to do?  What advice should she give to these vulnerable patients who are looking to her as a trusted professional?

There is an easy answer.

There is no reason the insurance company needs to know that a lawyer has been retained.

Yes, you can hire a lawyer and not tell the insurance company about it.  A legal retainer is 100% confidential.  You can have a lawyer in your corner, advising you every step of the way, working to build your case, and simply not mention it to the insurance adjuster.  There is absolutely no legal requirement to disclose this to the insurance company.

It is a consideration I discuss with every one of my new clients who are receiving benefits from the insurance company at the time I am hired.  If my client’s financial circumstances are such that the benefits are necessary in order for my client to carry on with treatment, I simply do not make myself known to the insurance adjuster.  Eventually, the benefits always stop anyway, and I officially come on board at that time.

The most important purpose of handling a claim, from my perspective, is getting the client better.  If hiring me would really jeopardize a client’s ability to get better, I would not take on the client.

I am not special.  You don’t have to come to me to use this strategy.  I doubt that any of the advice I am giving in my postings is unique to me. I am not “ambulance chasing” with these postings.  When potential clients come to me for an initial consultation, I always encourage them to interview other lawyers before making the important decision of whom they want to work with.

Don’t let insurance company tactics get in the way of the proper handling of your claim.  You don’t have a hope of achieving a just result without knowing your rights.  Most lawyers provide an initial consultation free of charge.  Once you have appropriate legal advice, you can make an informed decision about whether or not to actually retain a lawyer, without fear of how that might impact on the benefits you are receiving.

Published May 20, 2007 in the Kelowna Capital News