By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
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Correspondence between the two sides dating back to 2004 shows Mintz complaining of inadequate documentation and being accused of other motives for withholding the money. At the same time, Mintz was receiving letters from insurance adjusters questioning the validity of Spine and Injury Centers billings and whether its related companies were owned by licensed medical professionals as required under Colorado law. (One court case on that issue, in which Allstate was challenging the company's operation and structure, led to partial summary judgment in favor of the medical providers.)
In 2004, Ramos and Walford went their separate ways, and Ramos launched Mile High Medical Group with Nadler. By some accounts, this wasn't an entirely smooth transition. A bookkeeper named Cheryl Clark would later claim that records went missing for months; attorneys trying to settle cases and pay bills couldn't locate the providers who'd treated their clients or the charts that established what treatment was done. Clark claims to have been saddled with piles of boxes containing poorly sorted patient records heaped in the former Spine and Injury Centers office in Mintz's building.
Ramos says that he and his former partner sent letters notifying patients and attorneys of the changeover to make sure that patients didn't have their care interrupted. "Of all the attorneys we work with, we only had problems with two of them," he says.
One of them was David Mintz. "The records that you have supplied to me are in a total state of disarray," Mintz wrote in a letter to Ramos's billing service in the fall of 2004.
At that point, Mintz says now, he had little choice about his course of action. "I made the decision that I was going to resolve these cases and hold the money in trust, pending them working out whatever they had to work out," he recalls. "The clients couldn't wait for their money."
An auto accident in 2003 left Janice Martinez and her mother, Mary DePriest, in need of a lawyer and a few doctors. They sought legal representation from the Mintz Law Firm and rehabilitative treatment from Spine and Injury Centers.
The two women were decidedly underwhelmed by their subsequent medical care. "We had a lot of questions about it," Martinez says. "A lot of the procedures didn't seem up to par."
At the first Spine and Injury clinic they visited, some of the medical equipment seemed shabby or outdated and the staff was "rude and ugly," she adds. "They talked to us like we were retarded. We didn't see the same doctor much of the time."
Martinez considered the physical-therapy routines too difficult for her level of pain and inappropriate for her octogenarian mother. She also thought that a few of the treatment providers seemed more interested in bolstering the size of their settlement than addressing their pain. When Martinez complained, she was sent to Dr. Ramos — who, she says, chided her for not coming to him sooner.
"To me, what he was telling me was that he could have diagnosed this earlier so I could get a real good settlement," she explains. "But I just wanted my body to work right."
Martinez kept asking if she could talk to somebody about the mental trauma she'd experienced since the accident, including recurrent anxiety and fear of driving. She was sent to a female therapist for ten sessions that greatly relieved her anguish. "That was the greatest thing that clinic did for me," she says. "And that doctor wound up quitting."
DePriest and Martinez are now among the former Mintz clients named in the interpleader case.
Prior to the lawsuit, Ramos says, he hadn't received a single complaint from a patient about inappropriate care. "I'll bet I've worked with seventy different law firms in this town," adds Ramos, who's also a member of the clinical faculty at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center. "Thousands of patients. Never a complaint."
According to Ramos, the goal of Spine and Injury Centers was to provide more efficient and flexible care than the typical trauma clinic — and to do it for people who otherwise couldn't afford quality care at all. For example, having so many providers in the same place allowed for more individualized treatment rather than a set number of chiropractic visits or a mandatory physical-therapy regimen. At the outset, patients signed a series of lien agreements with an array of companies — Elite Chiropractic Care Inc., Physical Therapy Inc., A Shi Acupuncture Inc., and so on — but were only supposed to be billed for care received. Most patients never even saw their bills, which were sent to the attorneys and paid out of settlement proceeds.
Mintz's attorneys have described the arrangement as a scheme to defraud. Many patients didn't realize that the forms they were signing weren't multiple copies of the same lien, but rather liens from various entities, they contend. Some of the patients didn't speak English and couldn't even read what they were signing. Because Ramos and Walford had ownership interests in the subsidiary companies overseen by Spine and Injury Centers, the lawsuit claims that sending patients down the hall for additional treatment amounted to "unethical and illegal self-referrals."