Hilary Chulock (LinkedIn)
An attorney fired from Steinger, Iscoe, Greene & McAfee claims the firm illegally colluded with doctors to conduct unnecessary surgeries on clients to inflate damage claims against insurance companies.
In response, the personal injury firm claims the plaintiff, Hilary Chulock, was fired for misrepresenting terms of a settlement.
The defense attorney for the Fort Lauderdale branch of the statewide personal injury law firm denies all of her allegations. Chulock also names as defendant the parent firm, Steinger, Iscoe & Greene.
Chulock, now with The People’s Law Firm in North Miami, filed her suit in Fort Lauderdale federal court.
She describes her former employer as an “all-boys club” that rarely hires female attorneys and conducts business well outside the boundaries of accepted attorney ethics.
Of the 30 attorneys in Steinger, Iscoe & Greene’s nine offices today, five are women, but at least two are recent hires. Chulock states there was just one other female attorney in the firm during her employment.
Michael Pike of Pike & Lustig in West Palm Beach, attorney for the defendant firms, said, “The case is about a former angry employee trying to pull at the purse strings of a very large plaintiff firm, and that avenue of recovery is closed.”
Chulock was compelled by contract to take her grievance to arbitration. In her complaint, she asserts she was surprised, three months after being hired, with an arbitration contract. She questioned why it was made a condition so late after her hire, but said she had to sign it or be terminated.
Chulock alleges she took the proper procedure for leaving arbitration and did so because of the shortened discovery period, just four months versus her request for nine.
Four months is also how long Chulock was with the firm when she was let go on July 12, 2013.
Her amended complaint states she joined the firm with the understanding she would be co-head of the litigation department. Chulock left a seven-year career with a “blue-chip” insurance company, she said.
Within weeks of her employment, however, firm partner Sean Greene took over as head of litigation. Greene also hired a former colleague, Louis Battista, took Chulock’s most lucrative cases and gave them to Battista, she alleges.
Throughout her time at the firm, Greene would meet with the other male attorneys, excluding Chulock from their meetings and geographically isolating her from the rest of the litigation department, she claims.
Chulock, representing herself in the lawsuit, said: “Greene showed plaintiff disdain on a regular basis.”
Rather than the firm being some den of unscrupulous sharks, its defense has been that Chulock was the bad apple.
“Because Chulock saw her long sought prey … slipping from her desired grasp in arbitration, she then filed this action in federal court for no other reason but to forum shop and attempt to force SIG and SIGM to settle the case or she would make the allegations public,” Pike wrote in the motion to compel arbitration.
Chulock also alleges violations of federal and state fraud statutes. She claims that she learned first-hand and through coworkers of an ongoing scheme in which attorneys of the firm would collude with doctors.
She alleges cooperative doctors would receive a “steady stream of lucrative referrals.” In exchange, the physicians were to relate their diagnoses for injuries to the alleged accidents, and they were encouraged to drive up the medical costs by performing unnecessary treatments and/or surgeries, she said.
The firm also acted to swindle these same physicians, she claimed.
“Oftentimes the medical expenses were so high that they exceeded the policy limits and/or the authority of the insurance company. In those instances, (the firm) gave some of the firm’s employees instructions to misrepresent the gross settlement amount to lower figures to the providers—the very parties that they originally colluded with—than the actual amount for which it had settled,” Chulock alleges.
It was one case involving this practice that led to her firing, she claims.
A case she refers to as the “N-T” case was one of her more lucrative. Greene reassigned it to Battista and told Chulock she could “assist,” she said. Greene later instructed Chulock’s legal assistant “to lie to physicians in the N-T case and tell them that the case had settled for $85,000, although it eventually settled for $335,000, and to ‘negotiate them down’ with regard to their fees,” Chulock alleges.
When Chulock learned of this from her assistant, she confronted Greene and three other attorneys in a meeting. When she tried to talk, she said she was silenced by Greene.
Two days later, Chulock said Greene fired her, “claiming that she, not Sean Greene, gave the instruction to the legal assistant.”
The law firm’s response in court repeats the allegation that she was fired “for making intentional misrepresentations to a physician’s office concerning the amount of a personal injury settlement.”
On Monday, Pike filed a motion in the court of U.S. District Judge William Dimitrouleas to compel arbitration.
Seal the File
The law firm bird-dogged Chulock’s move from arbitration to federal court, filing an emergency motion to seal the court record on July 16, the day after she filed her case.
The firm alleged her complaint contains “incredibly outrageous, scandalous, redundant, immaterial and impertinent information obviously and purposefully intended to intimidate the defendants into a settlement and otherwise embarrass, harass and irreparably harm the defendants.”
On July 18, Dimitrouleas denied the firm’s motion to seal the court record.
Pike expects the court to ultimately send Chulock back to arbitration. He noted that she split with her arbitration attorney and has had to proceed on her own.
“Miss Chulock can find no one to represent her in this claim in federal court because it has no merit whatsoever,” Pike said.
He added that Greene continues to have the full faith and backing of his partners.
“He is an outstanding member of The Florida Bar and has obtained many multi-million settlements and verdicts on behalf of his clients,” Pike said. “The law firm unequivocally denies any allegations of any illegal collusive actions with anyone, in particular with physicians.”