Why does former personal injury lawyer Jeffrey Abramowitz gives all personal injury lawyers a bad name?
According to the recent indictment from the U.S. Attorney’s office in Philadelphia, from March 2005 to December 2008, Abramowitz represented to the firm’s clients that funds from their personal injury settlements would be held in escrow by the firm. Instead of depositing the settlement funds into the law firm’s escrow account, as required of all lawyers under Pennsylvania law, he was depositing the settlement checks into his personal bank accounts. Then he spent the money. The indictment also alleges that Abramowitz negotiated legal claims and executed settlement agreements in personal injury cases without the knowledge or consent of his clients, lied to clients regarding settlement amounts, and created false documents to further his scheme. The indictment said he spent the embezzled funds himself or diverted them to a favored client, only described as “D.P.” This was all to the tune of over 1 million dollars.
Abramowitz’s former law partner, Mitchell Klevan, said when he discovered what Abramowitz was doing, this was in December 2008, he locked Abramowitz out of their law office and has not spoken with him since. He said he began investigating complaints made by clients and took information to federal prosecutors in early 2009. “I don’t know if I’ll ever get over the depth of betrayal from someone who was a partner that I trusted like a brother,” Klevan said. “He brought this on himself and I just hope justice is served for all of the victims.”
Abramowitz’s license to practice law has been suspended in Pennsylvania and in the Federal District Courts in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
This story is a rare one. Most personal injury attorneys are hard working, honest and dedicated professionals. But, I suppose there is always a bad apple.
What is the lesson for all personal injury clients? What are you entitled to at the time you go into your lawyer’s office to receive the funds from your settlement?
When your case settles, you will be asked to sign a release, which is what the opposing insurance company requires in order to send the settlement check to your lawyer. this is usually mailed to you, and most insurance companies require your signature to be notarized on the release.
The settlement check will be delivered from the insurance company to your lawyer payable to you and your lawyer. Once you sign the settlement check, or authorize in writing your lawyer to endorse your name solely for the purpose of placing the check into your lawyer’s escrow account, it is held in escrow (your lawyers escrow account) until your lawyer distributes the settlement funds.
Distribution sheet- this is the document which shows the division of the settlement proceeds. Before you receive your portion of the settlement proceeds, your attorney’s fee, that the two of you agreed to pursuant to the contingency fee agreement, your attorney’s expenses to prosecute the case, medical bill that were unpaid by your insurance company, and liens (ie: Medicare, DPW, workers compensation) are paid out of the settlement. You receive the remainder.
You will be asked to sign these documents, and you are entitled to copies.