Red Flags From Lawyers Series: I visited a Pennsylvania personal injury lawyer for a free consultation about my Erie car accident case. The lawyer told me he'd send me to a doctor he knew and I wouldn't have to pay up front. Is this a good idea?

A: Generally speaking, it is a bad idea for an Erie injury lawyer to have a stable of doctors to whom the lawyer refers clients and the practice can be unethical if the Erie lawyer has a business relationship with the doctor that the Erie attorney does not disclose to the client.

The biggest problem with a pattern of referring clients to a doctor is that it can hurt your case.  Juries in Erie and northwestern Pennsylvania are skeptical of personal injury claims to begin with.  If they learn that the doctor testifying about the car accident injuries is someone to whom the lawyer referred the client and further that the lawyer sends lots of clients to that doctor, the jury may conclude that the relationship between the Pennsylvania personal injury lawyer and doctor is such that the doctor may be biased.

Not only that, but Pennsylvania insurance companies and defense lawyers are going to figure it out.  They learn pretty quickly when a particular Erie accident lawyer has a lot of cases with one particular doctor, chiropractor or physical therapist.  Once the insurance company or defense lawyer discerns a pattern that suggests a referral relationship, cases involving that injury lawyer and that doctor can be more difficult to settle, may settle at a lower value and may be more vigorously defended. 

The practice of referring a client to a doctor can be unethical of there is a kickback to the lawyer (especially if the lawyer doesn't disclose it to the client) or if the lawyer tries to get the client or the doctor to lie about the relationship.

Are there exceptions to this rule?  Of course there are.  As personal injury lawyers we get to see a great many injuries and a great many doctors.  Over time, it becomes apparent that for unusual circumstances some doctors are better suited than others.  It's perfectly legitimate for a lawyer to suggest a doctor to you.  However, if every client is being referred to the same chiropractor or doctor then you should beware.  And if your lawyer has a stack of cards or referral forms or if your lawyer volunteers right out of the blocks that he has a doctor for you, you should be particularly concerned.  At a minimum, you need to ask the lawyer to explain the relationship he has with the doctor, i.e., how many clients does he refer to the doctor, does he get a kickback, does the doctor refer cases back to the lawyer, etc?