You all have heard the statement: “Read before you sign anything”. That applied even to documents presented to you by your own attorney. I represent a lady who sustained a job injury in mid-July 2019. As I am handling her workers' compensation claim and preparing her for her testimony, she told us she had a prior automobile accident that occurred in early 2018. She hired attorney Ken Nugent to handle her automobile accident. I did not know her at that time in 2018.
Attorney Nugent settled her claim for the policy limits of $25,000. Typically, in auto accident cases, the lawyer will pay the medical bills out of the settlement proceeds, then pay himself and the rest goes to the client. It is very interesting that this client apparently never read the settlement statement that had the following paragraph: “I further understand that some of my medical expenses may remain outstanding and the undersigned will be responsible for the payment of said expenses.” What happened next, is that the attorney took his 1/3 attorney fee out of the settlement and then paid no medical bills but made no comment to her that this is what he was going to do. As a result, the client is now being billed for the medical bills that were supposed to be paid by the lawyer and yet the client already spent the settlement money thinking that the medical bills were paid out of the settlement proceeds by her attorney.
I think this is shameful. Quality lawyers will pay the medical bills out of the settlement proceeds at the time the claim is settled and the check clears the bank. I asked my client what happened when she signed the settlement document. She said: “I was not told that I have to pay the medical bills. I was told that they will be paid out of the settlement of the case, the $25,000.”
Obviously, she should have read the settlement statement before signing it and questioned the lawyer or whoever she met at that time when she signed the settlement document, but she did not do so.
The lesson learned is that all clients must always read every document before signing it even if it is presented to you by your own attorney especially when you are dealing with the distribution of real money.
I make it a point to always pay the medical bills out of the settlement funds even before I cut a check to me for my attorney fees. That is a bit unorthodox, but I believe that it is the decent way to make sure that the medical bills are paid at either the full or reduced balance. So when I present my client with a settlement check my client is assured that all medical bills are paid, before he/she receives their check.
When you deal with a lawyer, always be on your guard.