feature 12.09.10.indd

Document Sample
feature 12.09.10.indd Powered By Docstoc
					Car accident? Doctors and lawyers in the 411-PAIN network
    will line their pockets with your insurance money.
             anesh Sohan is built like a jockey, so thin,      the $10,000 of injury and lost wage benefits you may               People of all stripes are potential customers, but 411-

G            he’s almost concave, with a shaved head and
             delicate features that belie the punishment his
             body has endured. Four years ago, he served
in a U.S. Army infantry unit in Iraq, where he survived
an IED attack on his Humvee unscathed.
   Originally from Trinidad, the 22-year-old now
                                                               be entitled to.”
                                                                   Sohan assumed he could be eligible to receive
                                                               $10,000 or “something like that.” So the guys de-
                                                               cided to give it a shot. “411-PAIN, I hear it all the
                                                               time,” Sohan says. He figured that a big company
                                                               with a massive ad campaign must be legitimate. “If
                                                                                                                              PAIN makes no secret about courting black and Latino
                                                                                                                              clients. On R&B and hip-hop stations such as Hot 105
                                                                                                                              and 96.5 FM, the company’s pulsing jingle is inescap-
                                                                                                                              able: “Don’t play no games/Stay in yo’ lane/You touch
                                                                                                                              my car, then I’m callin’ 411-PAIN.”
                                                                                                                                  Other commercials flood Spanish-language televi-
earns his paychecks lifting boxes in a Target store-           I see it on TV, it’s somewhere I could trust to go to.”        sion stations. One starts with a squealing car crash, then
room at Sawgrass Mills in Sunrise. “I’m used to my             Yet Sohan never received $10,000 like the ad touted.           cuts to a woman in a neck brace, lying on a stretcher
body being sore,” he says. “I know what it feels like,         Instead, he unwittingly served as a pipeline, sending          complaining, “No quiero estar esperando por horas en
my body being injured.” His voice is soft and submis-          his insurance benefit money right into the pockets of          el hospital!” (“I don’t want to be waiting for hours in
sive, as if war had never been part of his vocabulary.         chiropractors and lawyers from the 1-800-411-PAIN              the hospital!”)
   Last June 16, in the sweltering center of a summer          Referral Service. Before long, he ran up a $15,000 medi-           “Entónces, lláme 411-PAIN,” the ambulance driver
afternoon, Sohan headed to the beach. His friend Bryan         cal bill. Now, he and Rodriguez have filed a class-action      tells her.
Rodriguez was in the passenger seat. Rodriguez, 23, is the     lawsuit to help themselves and others who say they were             Then there’s the popular company spokesman,
more imposing of the two men. A Puerto Rican native            tricked by 411-PAIN.                                           “Jorge,” a lovable geek who lives in Miami, wears a fanny
with dreadlocks and tattoos on his hands, he’s bounced                                                                        pack, and carries an ancient cordless phone.
around from a retail job to construction and washing cars.                  model with sculpted biceps and milk-choco-            A seemingly endless flow of cash funds all these mar-
   Traffic stalled at the drawbridge just before the beach
on East Sunrise Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale. Without
warning, a Ford truck rammed into them from behind.
Sohan jolted forward, one hand gripping the wheel, the
other glued to the stick shift.
   The truck driver offered Sohan and Rodriguez cash,
                                                               A            late skin appears on the TV screen dressed in a
                                                                            navy-blue police uniform. Standing by an open
                                                                            car hood, he speaks with friendly authority.
                                                                   “I arrive at all types of accidents — auto, motorcycle,
                                                               slip-and-fall, and work injuries,” he begins. “And I always
                                                               tell everyone to call 411-PAIN. According to Florida Law,
                                                                                                                              keting tools. In the past dozen years, the company has
                                                                                                                              spent more than $13.2 million on advertising, according
                                                                                                                              to court documents. More than 250,000 people “like”
                                                                                                                              411-PAIN’s Facebook page. In October, the page held a
                                                                                                                              Halloween costume contest asking fans to dress up like
                                                                                                                              “Jorge” and win $1,000.
but they called the police instead. When a Fort Lauder-        you may be entitled to a minimum of $10,000 in injury              The page also regularly gives away $100 prizes to
dale cop arrived, the truck driver admitted he hadn’t          protection and lost wages, whether you’re at fault or not.     fans who win celebrity trivia contests involving any-
stopped in time. He said his insurance would pay for the           “Remember, after 911, call 411.”                           thing from a new Kanye West album to a Jersey Shore
dents and scratches to Sohan’s Mitsubishi.                         The commercial’s message is simple. It tempts view-        star. “Snooki’s birthday is tomorrow! What birthday gift
   Sohan and Rodriguez went to the beach, but Rodri-           ers with $10,000 but never explains that the doctors and       would you give Snooki? The funniest answer by 10PM
guez’s upper back hurt, and Sohan felt stiffness in his        lawyers, not the patient, will get the money.                  EST will win $100!”
hands and back. By the next day, the ache in Sohan’s               The ad has great appeal to people who are not familiar         This booming business is made possible by Florida’s
back was so strong that he couldn’t sleep. Rodriguez           with insurance laws or not skeptical enough to ask many        insurance laws. Florida is a “no fault” insurance state. If
couldn’t get out of bed.                                       questions. Many of the company’s ads are aimed at viewers      someone crashes into your car, your insurance is sup-
   The friends weren’t well-versed in the intricacies          like Sohan — those struggling to pay the bills, those who      posed to pick up the tab for treating your injuries, and
of auto insurance, but they had seen the commercials           don’t have a lawyer or doctor friend to call for advice.       the other person’s insurance will cover theirs. It doesn’t
that saturate TV and radio stations in South Florida.                                                                          matter who caused the accident. The idea is to avoid the
Actors posing as police officers implore viewers, “After
911, call 411!” and tell victims, “Let them explain to you     By Lisa Rab                                                     cost of expensive lawsuits and skyrocketing premiums.
                                                                                                                                  All Florida drivers are required to carry     >> p12
Crash Course from p11                                                                                                                                         eager to avoid the hassle and expense of go-

a minimum of $10,000 in personal insur-
                                                         His voice takes on a car                                                                             ing to court, will often settle the claim. The
                                                                                                                                                              lawyer and the doctor then each take a hefty
ance protection (PIP) insurance. If you’re
injured in an accident and can’t work, that
                                                     salesman’s pitch as he delivers                                                                          percentage of the settlement — to cover legal
                                                                                                                                                              fees and treatment costs — and the client
$10,000 is supposed to cover 80 percent
of your medical bills and/or 60 percent
                                                    lines such as, “We have achieved                                                                          will get whatever small portion remains.
                                                                                                                                                                  411-PAIN denies any wrongdo-
of your lost wages, according to the state             our success with a focus on                                                                            ing, and a lawyer for the company has
Department of Financial Services.
    Ideally, doctors would provide only the                helping the injured.”                                                                              called the lawsuit “frivolous.” They
                                                                                                                                                              claim doctors in their network are treat-
services that are medically necessary and                                                                                                                     ing people with legitimate injuries.
the insurance companies would pay the bills                                                                                                                       James Quiggle, communications director
promptly. But the system gets perverted by                                                                                                                    for the nonprofit Coalition Against Insur-
doctors who inflate fees and lawyers who                                                                                                                      ance Fraud in Washington, D.C., did not have
profit from battling insurance companies to                                                                                                                   direct knowledge of the 411-PAIN lawsuit
collect those fees. There are various ways                                                                                                                    but said that generally, in personal injury
that fraud can occur. Some people stage car                                                                                                                   cases, it can be difficult to prove whether
accidents or fake injuries simply to collect                                                                                                                  medical treatment was justified or whether
the PIP money. In other cases, a patient has                                                                                                                  doctors are exaggerating to inflate their fees.
a legitimate but minor injury. His doctor                                                                                                                         “Many clinics carefully tread a thin line
knows that a pot of $10,000 is available, so                                                                                                                  between legal abuse and criminal fraud,”
to get the entire amount, the doctor will                                                                                                                     Quiggle says. “These clinics try to dance
run up the patient’s bill with expensive                                                                                                                      right to the edge of a legal cliff without
tests and treatment he may not need.                                                                                                                          falling off. The operators can rake in big
    “It’s become a dollar target,” says Lynne                                                                                                                 insurance dollars while making it hard for
McChristian, Florida representative for                                                                                                                       prosecutors to prove outright fraud.”
the Insurance Information Institute, an
industry-funded nonprofit. “And people                                                                                                                                   hank you for calling 411-PAIN.
will find that the benefits magically end
when you reach that $10,000 limit.”
    In Florida, the problem is especially
severe. “Florida leads the entire nation in
PIP fraud,” says John Askins, director of the
state’s Division of Insurance Fraud.“You are
                                                                                                                                                              T          Your call will be answered mo-
                                                                                                                                                                         mentarily. This call may be re-
                                                                                                                                                                         corded for quality assurance.”
                                                                                                                                                                  When Rodriguez got a 411-PAIN operator
                                                                                                                                                              on the phone in June, he explained that he
                                                                                                                                                              and Sohan had been in a car crash and that his
talking about tens of thousands of fraudulent                                                                                                                 back was hurting. Neither man has a primary-
claims. We have always been overwhelmed.”                                                                                                                     care doctor. The operator told Rodriguez
    Lawyers make money from accidents                                                                                                                         where Broward Rehab was located and got
and PIP claims too, because they step in                                                                                                                      him an appointment for a few hours later.
to fight skeptical insurance companies                                                                                                                            The two men drove to the office, lo-
and force them to pay the doctor bills. The                                                                                                                   cated in a battered West Oakland Park
lawyers charge hefty hourly fees and take a                                                                                                                   Boulevard strip mall. The clinic’s floor-
percentage of any insurance monies won.                                                                                                                       to-ceiling windows were made of reflec-
    If a doctor exaggerates a patient’s inju-                                                                                                                 tive glass and shielded by black shades.
ries to get paid more, “it’s insurance fraud,”                                                                                                                    The Broward Rehab waiting room was
McChristian says. “And it’s not a victimless                                                                                                                  ordinary — magazines in one corner, TV
crime, because we all pay more for insur-                                                                                                                     mounted on another wall. Rodriguez filled
ance because of these kinds of situations.”                                                                                                                   out piles of paperwork detailing his injury
    As of 2007, Florida was the fifth-most                                                                                                                    and Sohan’s auto insurance information,
expensive state in the nation for auto                                                                                                                        since Sohan was the driver of the car.
insurance, according to the National As-                                                                                                                          Sohan didn’t see a doctor that day. “I
sociation of Insurance Commissioners.                                                                                                                         was kind of skeptical about it,” he says. “I
                                                                                                                                 Photo courtesy of 411-PAIN
    Although decrying fraud in the system,                                                                                                                    know I can’t afford to pay for a chiroprac-
some personal injury lawyers and doctors          Robert Lewin has grown the 411-PAIN network to include 130 chiropractors in five states.                    tor.” But the next day, when he returned
say PIP is necessary to cover urgent medical                                                                                                                  with Rodriguez, he was in so much pain
care for car accident victims without other           No investigative agency has publicly ac-       refers a client to a chiropractic clinic that            that he too decided to get an appointment.
forms of health insurance. In 2007, the state     cused 411-PAIN of criminal wrongdoing,             will burn through his PIP money by hav-                  Thus began an almost-daily slog of doctor
Legislature considered ending the PIP             and Sohan and Rodriguez’s lawsuit does             ing him visit the doctor nearly every day,               visits. Although the men wouldn’t see the
requirement. The Florida Hospital Asso-           not directly accuse 411-PAIN of PIP fraud.         undergoing multiple treatments. The doc-                 bills right away, they started racking up.
ciation protested, saying that 40 percent of      Instead, it says the two men were misled           tors may even inflate the severity of the                    Sohan’s visit began with three x-rays
people sent to emergency rooms after a crash      into using the company’s services, so that         diagnosis, saying the client’s injuries are              of his back. Then he was told to lie on a
have no health insurance other than PIP.          411-PAIN could “secure insurance payments          so serious that they go beyond the $10,000               bed while a machine emitted tiny shock
    “Without PIP, consumers’ health insur-        and reimbursement for medical services.”           PIP coverage. They will charge the patient,              waves that forced the muscles in his back
ance policies will rise to cover their injuries   The class-action lawsuit, filed in Broward         say, $5,000 more than the PIP limit, thereby             to clench and relax. This was called electric
— as well as those of the uninsured,” Rich        Circuit Court, alleges false advertising, de-      saddling him with a medical debt that                    muscle stimulation (EMS), a therapy de-
Morrison, corporate vice president of the         ceptive trade practices, and a civil conspiracy.   can be resolved only through a lawsuit.                  signed to relieve inflammation and pain.
association, said at the time. “Robbing Peter     According to the complaint, the company                Meanwhile, the hotline sends the cli-                    Then, he received a ten-minute back
to pay Paul and shifting the medical costs        used “1-800-411-PAIN to conduct a mas-             ent to a personal injury lawyer — which                  massage from a massage therapist. Next,
of uninsured motorists to insured ones is         sive advertising and marketing campaign,           wouldn’t be necessary if the client didn’t               Sohan met with a chiropractor. She had
not in the best interest of Floridians.”          using fraudulent misrepresentations as a           have so many medical bills to pay. The law-              him lie on a bed with levers to move his
    And Cris Boyar, a Margate personal            method of procuring patients.” They also           yers file a claim against the other driver’s             back up and down. This was called “me-
injury attorney, argues that insurance            “unlawfully solicit clients… on behalf of          insurance company — the person who                       chanical traction,” a chiropractic tech-
companies are also to blame for driving           lawyers pursuing personal injury claims.”          supposedly “caused” the crash. Using the                 nique designed to stretch and relax his
up costs. Insurers “routinely and unrea-              Based on their investigation of the com-       injured client’s stack of medical treatments             spinal muscles. “That made it worse,”
sonably deny valid claims,” Boyar wrote           pany, Sohan’s lawyers believe that 411-PAIN,       as evidence, the lawyer will ask for thou-               Sohan says. “It never cracked my back.”
in an October 2010 Florida Bar Journal            which calls itself a “medical and legal refer-     sands of dollars in damages, in addition to                  Like many people, Sohan did not have a
article. They “drive up legal fees by caus-       ral service,” has a formula for collecting PIP     the $10,000 that was already billed to PIP.              full grasp of the medical terminology and
ing expensive and protracted litigation.”         money, plus extra cash. First, the hotline            The other driver’s insurance company,                 technology, but he trusted the doc- >> p14
Crash Course from p12                             to help him qualify for social security dis-
                                                  ability insurance, but his claim was rejected
tors to make the right decision for his health.   by the government. When he visited the
    The therapies he received, while perhaps      social security office, he was told they were
medically debatable, are not uncommon in          still trying to get the proper documentation
the chiropractic world. But Sohan — young,        from Broward Rehab. “They always said
healthy, unaccustomed to dealing with             the doctor wasn’t there to sign it,” he says.
doctors — didn’t probe too deeply. Every              Yet Sohan kept returning to the clinic.
time he came to the clinic, employees had         “I had no idea where else to go,” he says. “I
Sohan sign off on a document spelling out         wasn’t getting no advice from anybody. They
each service he received. And he scrawled         seemed like at least they were doing some-
his initials, although he didn’t know what        thing. And they kept telling me to come back.”
EMS or mechanical traction were.
    Sohan always left the clinic without                     obert Cash Lewin, owner of 411-
paying. He wouldn’t see a written bill until
months later, when he’d stopped going to
Broward Rehab. That’s when he discovered
he was billed for many things he doesn’t
remember receiving. There were 19 ultra-
sounds, although he says he only got one or
                                                  R          PAIN, arrives for an interview at
                                                             his lawyer’s office in downtown
                                                             Fort Lauderdale wearing a dark
                                                  suit jacket and a collared shirt. Flanked by
                                                  his graying attorney and his polished PR
                                                  consultant, he apologizes for being nervous.
two, and 17 charges for therapeutic exercises     Indeed, he seems swallowed up by the mam-
at $150 a pop, which he says he never did.        moth conference table and his leather chair.
    This is precisely the problem McChris-            At 44, he is short and squat, with spiky
tian, the insurance advocate, rails against.      dark hair, pale skin, and a goatee. He could
    “The individual may not know that             be a young Danny DeVito playing the
they’re being billed for certain services         role of businessman. His voice takes on a
or that their insurance companies are             car salesman’s pitch as he delivers lines
being billed for treatment they never             such as, “We have achieved our success
received,” McChristian explains. “The             with a focus on helping the injured.”
individual isn’t getting the $10,000. In              Lewin and his twin brother, Harley, grew
their name, services are being billed.”           up in Davie as the youngest members of a
    Then, there was the legal trouble. Dur-       family with nine kids. Their father started
ing his first Broward Rehab visit, the re-        the Small Fry daycare chain, which grew
ceptionist gave Rodriguez the name and            to 30 locations in South Florida. Lewin was
number of a lawyer he should call. Askins,        blessed with the family’s entrepreneurial
of the Division of Insurance Fraud, says          spirit and credits his dad with giving him
a referral to a lawyer is common practice         the idea for expanding his business.
for accident clinics. “That seems to always           When they were kids, one of Lewin’s
happen — they just have a personal injury         older brothers was friends with a boy
lawyer waiting in the wings,” he says.            named Guy Shapiro. Because Shapiro was
    Sohan and Rodriguez were referred to a        six years older than him, Lewin didn’t
Pompano Beach lawyer who did little except        know him well. He had no idea the teen-
read them a contract outlining his fee — 33.3     ager would later become his business
percent of any settlement up to $1 million,       partner and good friend. And he was igno-
provided they settled the case before the         rant of a dark chapter in Shapiro’s life.
other driver’s insurance company filed an             In 1977, when he was around 16, Shapiro
answer to their complaint. If the case dragged    allegedly raped his 5-year-old niece while
on longer, the fee went up to 40 percent.         babysitting her in North Miami Beach. He
    “ ‘We’re gonna win this case,’ ” Rodri-       assaulted the child “possibly 10 or more
guez remembers the lawyer saying. “ ‘Keep         times” over the course of a year, according to
going to therapy, as much as they say.’ ”         an affidavit in the case. A dozen years later,
    So the two friends continued go-              the victim and her mother confronted Sha-
ing to Broward Rehab for two months.              piro about what happened. He eventually
At first, Sohan was instructed to come            pleaded no contest to four counts of lewd and
every day. “Therapy is repetitious,” he           lascivious assault on a child and served four
was told. Yet his back kept hurting.              years of probation. By then, he had become
    “I wasn’t seeing any development,” he         a chiropractor. He was barred from treating
says. Eventually, his therapy regimen was         children in his practice during that time.
cut back to around three days a week.                 But Lewin says he knew nothing about
    But Sohan had no clue that any monies he      Shapiro’s crimes. The two didn’t cross paths
won in a legal settlement would likely be used    much until they both attended Life Univer-
to cover the medical bills he was racking up      sity in Atlanta for chiropractic training. They
at Broward Rehab. He didn’t know how PIP          grew closer after they returned to Florida
worked and didn’t realize the doctors and         and set up shop separately as chiroprac-
lawyers were eating up his insurance benefits.    tors. In the early ’90s, they began hatching
    “I was really, really confused,” So-          plans to launch a chain of clinics together.
han says. Whenever he called the lawyer               They opened Broward Rehab in 1995. In
with questions about his case, only the           official documents, Lewin was listed as presi-
secretary was available, and the lawyer           dent of the company, and Shapiro’s mother
never called back. (The lawyer himself            was president of the board of directors.
did not respond to repeated requests                  The next year, state records show, Lewin
from New Times for comment.)                      opened Dade Rehabilitation in Miami and the
    Unable to lift heavy boxes, Sohan initially   following year a clinic in Hollywood. By 2002,
took two weeks off from work. When his            they also had a clinic in Aventura, bringing
injury lingered and he still couldn’t handle      the total to four. The medical practice was
heavy loads, his supervisors cut back his work    accompanied by a marketing arm, which
hours. He says his Target bosses were willing     Lewin started early on. In 1997, he       >> p16
Crash Course from p14                            ments, 411-PAIN says it has spent $13.2 mil-
                                                 lion on advertising in the past dozen years.
got a license for a toll-free number and began   And since the advertising group was formed,
advertising “accident recovery informa-          411-PAIN’s business has gone gangbusters.
tion services” provided by 800-411-PAIN.            From 2008 to 2010, Lewin opened
    Lewin bristles at any suggestion of im-      eight more clinics that he co-owns
propriety in his company. 411-PAIN’s goal is     in Florida, in Tampa, St. Peters-
to assist people in need, he says. The clinics   burg, Lakeland, and Jacksonville.
treat slip-and-fall victims and people injured      He also exponentially increased the
on the job as well as car accident victims.      number of clinics in the network owned by
They also do general chiropractic work           outsiders and pushed the company into other
and have medical doctors on-site, he says.       states. The 411-PAIN network now includes
   The company was a thriving but rather         36 clinics with about 100 chiropractors in
small operation for nearly a decade. It          Florida. Another 11 clinics employing about
didn’t take off until after Shapiro died.        30 chiropractors operate in Minnesota, Mas-
                                                 sachusetts, Tennessee, and Georgia, says
        ust before 4 a.m. on April 1, 2007,      Lewin’s PR consultant, Ellen Schulman.

J       Shapiro drove to an Opa-locka gas
        station, desperate to buy crack .
        Three Miami teenagers sold him
some fake rock, then stuck a shotgun in the
window of his Cadillac Escalade, according
                                                    Dr. Barry Raxenberg, a Palm Beach
                                                 County chiropractor who says he joined the
                                                 network more than five years ago, is full of
                                                 praise for the company. “It has been a tre-
                                                 mendous boost to my business,” he wrote in

   Commercials are an essential
  part of 411-PAIN’s business plan.
 In court documents, 411-PAIN sa ys
    it has spent $13.2 million on
advertising in the past dozen years.
to a police report. His attackers demanded       an email. “The number of patients treated
more cash. Shapiro, 45, refused to open his      by my clinic has increased significantly since
wallet. One of the teenagers pulled the trig-    being part of the 411-PAIN organization.”
ger and left a bullet in Shapiro’s shoulder.         Raxenberg declined to specify
    A police officer discovered Shapiro ly-      how much he paid to join the network
ing on the sidewalk, bleeding. He died five      or the amount of money he contrib-
days later at Jackson Memorial Hospital.         utes to the marketing campaign.
Three males — Jeffrey Hatcher, 19, Derrance          The legal arm of 411-PAIN has under-
Roberts, 17, and Antonio Williams, 15 — were     gone a similar growth spurt. Lewin says
charged with armed robbery and first-degree      this aspect of his business began when
murder. Their case has not yet gone to trial.    patients at the medical clinics began ask-
    While Shapiro was in the hospital on         ing legal questions. The chiropractors
life support, Lewin filed paperwork with         would then refer them to lawyers.
the state formalizing the advertising arm            Sohan and Rodriguez’s lawsuit ac-
of the company. He called it 411-PAIN            cuses 411-PAIN of “unlawfully solicit[ing]
Advertising Group and listed himself as          clients… on behalf of lawyers pursuing
president, Shapiro as vice president.            personal injury claims.” Any company
    With this company, Lewin could now           that refers people to lawyers is supposed
attract other doctors to his network of chiro-   to register with the Florida Bar. But for a
practic clinics. He charges them a licensing     dozen years, 411-PAIN did not. This May,
fee — he won’t specify the amount — to join.     the company finally complied. “In order
They also “help with the advertising bud-        just to be on the conservative side, we’ve
get,” he says. In return, clients are directed   gone ahead and registered,” Perling says.
to their clinics when they call 411-PAIN.            The lawsuit also says 411-PAIN “intention-
    “Our dynamic television and radio com-       ally misled consumers into believing they
mercials will help you cultivate a client base   are contacting a lawyer for legal services
that no competitor can rival,” the advertis-     or a service that will explain to them their
ing group’s LinkedIn page promises. “Find        rights... when, in fact, they are contacting
out what it’s like having personal injury        chiropractic medical clinics.” Florida Bar
attorneys in your area courting you.”            rules state that advertisements for attorney
    Normally, a lone doctor running a small      referral services must not include “visual or
accident clinic would have to go find and        verbal descriptions, depictions, or portray-
hire a lawyer willing to file claims against     als of persons, things, or events” that are
insurance companies to make sure the             “deceptive, misleading, or manipulative.”
patients’ questionable medical bills were            One 411-PAIN commercial features a
paid. By joining 411-PAIN, the LinkedIn          white-haired man wearing a suit and tie who
page implies, more accident victims will         stands in front of a wall of legal books and
flock to the doctors’ offices. Personal in-      says, “Insurance companies have attorneys
jury attorneys will then “court” the doc-        working hard for them. Call 411-PAIN and
tors so they can file lawsuits on behalf of      get the right people working for you.”
their patients and collect the legal fees.           Lewin maintains that “our commer-
    Commercials are an essential part of         cials are an accurate, true description”
411-PAIN’s business plan. In court docu-         of the services offered. In recent       >> p18
Crash Course from p16                                                                                                                                               ohan and Rodriguez finally stopped

months, the company has changed some
of its ads to comply with the bar rules,
adding disclaimers that identify it as a
medical and legal referral service.
    Lewin also flatly denies that the attorneys
                                                                                                                                                          S         going to Broward Rehab in August
                                                                                                                                                                    after two months of frequent visits.
                                                                                                                                                                    Around that time, Rodriguez com-
                                                                                                                                                          plained to a neighbor about his experience
                                                                                                                                                          with the clinic and 411-PAIN. The neighbor
                                                                                                                                                          happened to work for the Kelley/Uustal law
pay a fee to be part of the 411-PAIN network.                                                                                                             firm in Fort Lauderdale and suggested they
That would violate bar rules. But he admits                                                                                                               talk to the lawyers there. When Sohan and
that the doctors and lawyers send each other                                                                                                              Rodriguez relayed their troubles to the at-
business. They have “a reciprocal relation-                                                                                                               torneys, the lawyers decided to file a suit.
ship,” meaning that in some cases, lawyers                                                                                                                    As the case gets publicized, Kel-
refer patients to doctors and vice versa.                                                                                                                 ley/Uustal hopes to find other plain-
    That raises the question of whether                                                                                                                   tiffs to join the suit who believe they
the referral service points patients to the                                                                                                               have been ripped off by 411-PAIN.
best possible medical and legal services                                                                                                                      “411-PAIN has misled accident victims
or whether it just drums up business for a                                                                                                                about who they are and what they really do,”
specific network of doctors and lawyers.                                                                                                                  says Eric Rosen, Sohan’s attorney. “This lawsuit
    For instance, a chiropractor may not                                                                                                                  is meant to stop this and compensate all Florida
be able to provide the best medical treat-                                                                                                                consumers who have used the 411-PAIN ser-
ment to a patient. “Maybe I should be go-                                                                                                                 vice and fallen for their unfair practices.”
ing to an osteopath, or maybe I should be                                                                                                                     Kelley/Uustal doesn’t compete with
going to a surgeon,” says J. Robert Hunter,                                                                                                               411-PAIN and doesn’t handle small car-
director of insurance for the Consumer                                                                                                                    accident cases. Rosen says the firm will not
Federation of America. “I’d want to get                                                                                                                   charge Sohan a penny if he loses his case.
advice on what is the specialty I need. If all                                                                                                                For now, Sohan’s auto insurance com-
they do is pump everybody into the chiro-                                                                                                                 pany has frozen his PIP payments to
practors, that’s not appropriate either.”                                                                                                                 Broward Rehab. The high medical bills
    Success has been good to Lewin. He                                                                                                                    and large amount of treatment for a mi-
owns three homes: a $1.2 million house                                                                                                                    nor fender-bender raised a red flag with
in Davie, a $416,000 condo in Hollywood,                                                                                                                  the company’s investigators, and they are
and a $200,000 condo in Oakland Park.                                                                                                                     now examining Sohan’s case, Rosen says.
Twin brother Harley has become co-                                                                                                                            In all, Broward Rehab billed So-
                                                                                                                                        Michael McElroy
owner of the clinics that Shapiro used to                                                                                                                 han for $15,185 worth of services.
help run. Harley is neither a chiroprac-          Attorney Eric Rosen alleges that 411-PAIN misled Ganesh Sohan and other accident victims.                   If he wins his class-action suit, Sohan
tor nor a lawyer. Schulman says he helps                                                                                                                  hopes to get all his medical bills paid or
with “promotion” of the company.                  perience with his parents’ Small Fry network,   from continuing to use the 444-PAIN brand.              waived and his attorney fees covered. He’s
    Harley is also codirector, with Lewin, of     sparked the timing of the rapid expansion.”         As for Sohan and Rodriguez’s case, Lewin            also asked for an undetermined amount of
411-Cars Inc., a network of small car deal-           Regardless of motivation, 411-PAIN          says that the frequency of their visits would           damages to compensate him for the money
ers who pool their advertising resources          is vigilant about protecting its cash-cow       have been determined by the severity of their           411-PAIN made from having him as a client.
and market themselves together. Schul-            brand. As the company has become more           injuries. “The doctor gives the care plan,”                 Meanwhile, Sohan is still living with
man says the dealers are not specifically         successful, it has spawned copycats, such as    he says. “It’s not based on convenience;                his parents in Sunrise. He still works
soliciting 411-PAIN’s clients. “It’s totally      1-800-NEED-HELP, an injury hotline with         it’s based on what the doctor feels is best             at Target, but his hours have been se-
unrelated to accidents,” she says. This           billboards along I-95 in Palm Beach County.     for the patient’s health.” Lewin says it’s              verely cut because of his lingering in-
year, Robert Lewin opened yet another                 Last year, Lewin filed a federal lawsuit    411-PAIN’s policy to distribute an explana-             jury. Since Broward Rehab’s insurance
company, 411 Pain Fight Gear, to sell             against a Palm Beach Gardens-based compet-      tion of services to each patient, so Sohan              bill exceeded $10,000, there’s no PIP
mixed martial arts and boxing apparel.            itor, 888-444-PAIN, arguing the hotline was     should have received that. And he should                money left to cover his lost wages.
    Lewin hired PR consultant Schulman spe-       too similar to 411-PAIN’s trademarked brand.    have asked questions if he was confused.                    Instead of walking around with a
cifically to handle New Times’ inquiries about        He accused 444-PAIN of service mark in-         When Sohan and Rodriguez filed their                healthy back and the thousands of dol-
Sohan’s lawsuit against 411-PAIN. Aside from      fringement, unfair competition, and cyberpi-    class-action suit in Broward Circuit Court              lars he envisioned getting from 411-
the initial, brief interview with Lewin and his   racy. He alleged the competitor was purposely   this October, Lewin suspected that competi-             PAIN, he’s struggling to make ends
lawyer, all questions were vetted through her.    trying to “divert customers seeking Broward     tors were somehow behind the lawsuit. He                meet. The pain in his back lingers, along
    She says Lewin grew the company quickly       Rehab to call a confusingly similar phone       called it “slimy business tactics” and insists          with his mountain of medical bills.
because he wanted to honor his dear friend.       number” and was benefiting from the “brand      that everything his company is doing is legal.              Turns out, surviving an IED attack
“Guy Shapiro’s dream was to expand the            recognition and goodwill” that 411-PAIN             “What this lawsuit is really about is               in Iraq was easier than surviving his mi-
network statewide and nationally and of-          had worked so hard to establish. This March,    411-PAIN’s market share,” Lewin says. “Compe-           nor car accident in Fort Lauderdale.
fer expanded hours,” Schulman wrote in an         Lewin won a $5 million judgment and a per-      tition is supposed to bring out the best in people,
email. “Guy’s death, along with Robert’s ex-      manent injunction preventing the company        and in this case, it’s brought out the worst.”          Lisa.Rab@BrowardPalmBeach.com

Shared By: