“Letters of Protection” in Florida Personal Injury Cases
A “letter of protection” or LOP is a unique creation in the law. Before signing one, you should understand what it really means and what it really does. It can be hard to get a straight answer on what it really is. This is where we want to straighten things out for you by saying what few others are willing to say.
A Letter of Protection Is A Contract
In very simple terms, a letter of protection is a contract between you and your doctor in which you agree to the following:
- The doctor provides you with medical treatment, regardless of whether you win or lose your case and regardless of whether your condition is related to your personal injury case
- In exchange, you agree to pay the doctor out of any personal injury settlement or civil judgment that you get regardless of whether you get full value for your case
By signing the letter of protection, the doctor is agreeing to delay collecting money on your medical care until your case gets resolved and you are agreeing to have your attorney pay that doctor from your Florida Bar closing.
So What Does All Of This Really Mean?
The true impact of signing a letter of protection is that your doctor functionally becomes a joint client with you in your personal injury case. After you have signed a letter of protection (as well as your attorney), your doctor does not get a say in how much the case settles for but your doctor does get a say in how much you get out of the settlement.
If you and your doctor cannot agree, then typically a separate lawsuit must be filed to obtain jurisdiction over the doctor and your attorney deposits the disputed funds into the court registry until the judge decides how the money is to be divided.
In my career, I have had two cases resolve like this one. The first one was settled after everyone realized what happened (although they should have realized it sooner). The second one took over two years to work its way through the court system and was ultimately resolved by a judge to no one’s satisfaction. Both clients and doctors should deal reasonably with each other to avoid these situations.
An LOP May Be Your Only Route To Medical Care
Despite the horror stories about LOP’s, a letter of protection serves a very important purpose. It allows a person who has no other way to pay for medical care after an accident or an injury to get much needed medical treatment. An emergency room at a hospital only has an obligation to screen a patient for life threatening conditions under EMTALA (“patient dumping” statute).
After you have been stabilized at the ER, the law allows the hospital to discharge you without further treatment that you may need if you do not have health coverage to pay for more care. If this happens to you, a letter of protection may be your only way to get medical care. Oftentimes, Medicaid plans (aka “share of cost”) are expensive and do not pay enough for the treatment that you need.
It Is Important To See Eye To Eye On What The Agreement Really Is
Like most contracts, trust is a key element in making the contract actually work. If you sign a letter of protection for a $3,000 doctor’s bill, that doctor may be thinking that they will negotiate depending on how the case turns out or that doctor may want the $3,000 no matter what. You should have a discussion with your doctor before signing a letter of protection as to what the agreement really means, particularly if you have to settle your case for less than full value.
The price of negotiation should ideally be built into the price charged under a letter of protection, although some cases will involve losses. This is just the nature of contingency fee work. As a personal injury attorney, I do everything that I can do to only bring cases that will result in a financial recovery, however, there are things that are beyond my control that can affect the outcome (i.e. a defendant declares bankruptcy, you get into another accident, or a bad ruling from the judge).
We can only do the best that we can and this is why understanding is the key to any successful relationship, including a letter of protection.
If You Need Medical Treatment After An Accident, Call A Lakeland Personal Injury Attorney To Discuss Your Case
If you have been injured in an accident in Lakeland and need to see a doctor, contact a Lakeland personal injury attorney to discuss your options. We can help you find the right places to go for treatment of your symptoms and can help you determine whether you can collect money from the person or company who caused your injury. A consultation with a personal injury attorney at Russo Law is free.