Attorney kept settlement money?

by Margarita
(San Diego, California)

I had a slip and fall injury at a hotel. I needed to get medical treatment and the hotel refused payment, so I hired an attorney. They took my case and sent me to one of their contracted chiropractors. They also sent me to get an MRI.

A year and half later they let me know the case settled. They sent me a statement saying the total settlement was $9k - they itemized the settlement. They got $3000 plus $300 fees. The statement had both the doctor and imaging centers' names and that line item stated the negotiated amount of $3500, and then my name with the remaining balance.

Eighteen months later I am being sent to collections because neither the doctor nor the imaging center were paid. Now the attorney is not returning my calls or emails.

What can I do? It appears the attorney just kept the money meant for the doctor and imaging center. Should I tell them to sue the attorney for their money? I shouldn't be stuck in the middle of this.

Visitor Question:
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ANSWER for "Attorney kept settlement money?":

Margarita (San Diego, California):

Without knowing how much money you received, it's difficult to know whether or not the attorneys acted improperly. Out of the $9,000.00 gross settlement amount, you state the attorneys retained $3,000.00 as legal fees, and $300.00 for costs. You don't state whether or not the attorney kept any other money.

Your first action should be to read the contingency fee agreement you signed with the attorneys. In it should be language stating whether or not the attorneys have the right to retain (out of the gross settlement amount) sufficient funds to pay your medical creditors.

Learn about how attorney compensation works and contingency fee agreements here.

If the attorney gave you a check in the amount of $5,700.00, then you were responsible for paying the negotiated medical costs of $3,500.00. If you didn't pay the medical costs, then you are to blame, and will be responsible for paying the medical bills.

Learn more about liens on your settlement and how to negotiate medical liens.

If the attorneys retained $3,300.00 for legal fees and costs, plus an additional amount of $3,500.00 dollars, for a total of $6,800.00 dollars, leaving you with a net check in the amount of $2,200.00, then the attorneys would appear to be at fault. If that is the case, the attorneys should immediately pay the medical bills associated with your case.

If you believe you have been treated improperly by your attorneys, you can contact the California State Bar and file a complaint. You can also contact an attorney with experience handling legal malpractice cases.

The above is general information. Laws change frequently, and across jurisdictions. You should get a personalized case evaluation from an attorney licensed in your state. Find a local attorney to give you a free case review here, or call (888) 647-2490.

Best of luck,

Judge Calisi

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