"1-800-Ask-Gary" is a medical and legal referral service in Florida founded by Sarasota chiropractor Gary Kompothecras. If you have been to Central Florida you have seen their billboards, television ads and radio ads. Television ad costs exceed $12M per year.
Business must be good – last June Kompothecras paid a little more than $1 million for a three-year deal to put his service’s name on the amphitheater in Tampa. And he built a home of almost 30,000 square feet.
However, 1-800-Ask-Gary has created more than a little controversy. The referral business sends people to some 40 clinics operated by Kompothecras. Lawyers pay to join the referral network and get cases from the referral service.
The Florida Bar thinks that the referral system skirts the rules on lawyer advertising. And, back in November of last year Bloomberg News reported that the company was undergoing investigation for fraud by Florida’s Division of Insurance Fraud and that the FBI was also investigation his company, Physician’s Group.
Bloomberg reported that
State investigators are trying to determine whether clinics or lawyers in the networks make unlawful payments for referrals and whether patients are being treated for non-existent injuries, Smith recently told the Florida bar association. The FBI wants to know whether lawyers are directing treatment based on how much insurance coverage patients have, according to people familiar with the matter. Only licensed medical practitioners are permitted to decide treatment.
Lawyers outside the 1-800-Ask-Gary Network complain about that the ads are grabbing cases and steering them to lawyers who use the medical offices to drive up settlements that work to the primary benefit of the chiropractors.
The referral network concept has expanded, and now includes companies such as "411 Pain." 411 Pain is a business that sells off territories, like franchises, to medical clinics. When an accident victim calls the 411 Pain lawyer referral service, that call essentially goes to a pain clinic hotline.
Now, a Florida lawyer is fighting back. He has registered a website with the domain name "1800askgarysucks.com" and recently won a fight to keep the name. The lawyer persuaded an arbitrator that he was not using the site for a commercial purpose but instead was exercising his right of free speech
In Middle Tennessee we have certain medical clinics that are calling accident victims. The callers tell the accident victim that they need a lawyer – and then (I assume) refer the victim to a lawyer. I think that if a lawyer is participating in this effort he or she is violating of ethics rules, which prohibit solicitation of clients and contacting potential clients within 30 days of an accident. One cannot do indirectly what he or she cannot do directly.