“Case Study: FULL Payments on Your Lien”

by Melissa Winthers

I was recently approached by a chiropractor about a problem he was having regarding a lien. This chiropractor had provided care to a patient under a lien agreement signed by the patient. The chiropractic bills totaled approximately $2,200, and the patient’s care was completed. The patient subsequently retained a personal injury attorney. Upon learning this, the chiropractor sent his lien agreement to the attorney. The chiropractor requested that the attorney sign the lien agreement. The attorney refused to sign it. The attorney did not give a reason for refusing to sign it. The attorney did not indicate that the lien contained objectionable language nor did the attorney contend that the charges were inappropriate or unreasonable. The attorney simply refused to acknowledge the lien. This is when I received a call from the chiropractor. I began by sending a certified letter to the attorney with a copy of the lien. I indicated that regardless of whether the attorney chose to sign the lien agreement, the attorney was on notice of it. I indicated that under Ethics Opinion 94, the attorney had an obligation to hold the money in trust. Several months later I received a letter from the attorney acknowledging that the personal injury case was concluded and offering to pay $500 of the chiropractor’s charges. Upon discussion with the chiropractor, I rejected this offer. I advised the attorney that this was not acceptable. I again reminded the attorney of the ethical obligation to hold the full amount of the bills in trust

The attorney then offered $800 as full and final payment. Upon discussion with the chiropractor, I rejected this offer. I advised the attorney to interplead the full amount of the disputed bills with the court registry. The attorney subsequently ceased communication without sending payment and without interpleading the money. The chiropractor therefore filed a complaint against the attorney with the Colorado Attorney Regulation Counsel. Not long thereafter, the chiropractor was notified by the Attorney Regulation Counsel that it had entered into a confidential settlement agreement with the attorney and that the attorney would be interpleading the $2,200 with the court registry. I received the Interpleader document and filed an Answer and Counterclaims on behalf of the chiropractor. The Answer indicated that the patient had signed the lien agreement directing the patient’s attorney to pay the chiropractor’s bills out of the settlement.

I attached the lien agreement and noted the pertinent language. I also made a claim for attorney’s fees and costs under the terms of the lien agreement. When the patient failed to respond to the Answer and Counterclaims, I filed a Motion for Default Judgment. The court awarded default judgment in favor of the chiropractor. The court will release the $2,200 from the court registry to the chiropractor within two weeks.

The chiropractor wanted me to share this story with you. His goal in sharing it is to let other chiropractors know that they are not required to reduce their liens at the mere demand of an attorney without good cause.

Melissa Winthers is an Denver Denver attorney at Fleishman & Shapiro P.C. She represents people who have been injured in collisions and can be reached at 303-861-1000 or mwinthers@colorado-law.net