Ambulance Chasers - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Reported by Andy Wise

Ambulance Chasers

Major crash or minor fender-bender, expect a call from someone representing Dr. Adam Coates.

Coates is a Tennessee-licensed chiropractor who recently opened Presley Chiropractic, 4466 Elvis Presley Blvd., in Whitehaven after closing Winchester Chiropractic, 6749 Winchester Rd., in Hickory Hill.

According to a Tennessee Department of Health allegation report, Coates or one of his agents telemarketed Hugh Sharp of Byhalia, MS, less than 18 days after an auto accident last June in Collierville, TN.  The crash report indicates Sharp was not charged with any violation in the crash.

In a interview with Action News 5, Sharp says the caller insisted that he come to Coates' clinic for free treatment, even though the crash report indicates Sharp was not injured.  Sharp says he was under the impression that the caller represented Tennessee Farm Bureau Insurance, the insurance provider of the motorist who was charged with causing the accident, according to the crash report. 

But Terry Brewer, chief fraud investigator for Tennessee Farm Bureau Insurance, confirms the company did not call Sharp.

"(The caller) set me up for 22 visits at this chiropractic place," says Sharp.  "My therapy was 15 minutes on a table that rolled up and down."

Sharp says he made 20 of the visits, even though he says he was not hurt and the crash report indicates he was not injured.  Every visit was free.

Then he received something in the mail that revealed the treatment wasn't free at all.  It was a nearly $4,000 check from Tennessee Farm Bureau Insurance that Sharp was supposed to give to Coates' clinic.

Coates billed the insurance company of the motorist who ran into Sharp.

"That's when I realized that someone had obviously taken advantage of us and the insurance company," says Evelyn Sharp, Sharp's wife.

Bartlett, TN, chiropractor Dr. Richard Cole is the past president of both the Tennessee Board of Chiropractic Examiners and the national Federation of Chiropractic Licensing Boards.  He's currently on the board of directors of the National Board of Chiropractic Examiners.

He says chiropractors like Coates are using either staff or independent agents to pull "no-fault" accident victims' contact information from auto accident reports.  Cole says they're telemarketing them for treatment that is actually billed to the "at-fault" driver's insurance company.

Cole also says they're telemarketing accident victims in violation of Tennessee's chiropractic rules, which state "...Telemarketing or telephonic solicitation by licensees, their employees, or agents to victims of accidents or disaster shall be considered unethical if carried out within thirty (30) days of the accident..."

"They carefully and artfully craft the sentences," says Cole.  "It makes you think it's the insurance company, and that's just misleading to the public, and it's damaging to the public."

An unidentified technician at Coates' Whitehaven clinic insisted the clinic does not telemarket accident victims.  But Action News 5 interviewed three other patients who showed up at the clinic.  They confirmed they had been telemarketed to receive "free" treatment less than 30 days after their own auto accidents.

"I was wondering how did they get my number, how did they find out I had been in an accident," says Barbara Counts of Walls, MS, who left her appointment after learning the clinic might bill the insurance company of the motorist who crashed into her.

Coates refused to answer our questions and referred us to his parent company, Chiropractic Strategies Group of Ft. Worth, TX. 

Last March, Allstate Insurance Company sued Chiropractic Strategies Group, its chief officer Dr. Michael Kent Plambeck and several of its chiropractors and clinics nationwide.  Allstate alleges in the suit that the group is conducting the "fraudulent scheme" of telemarketing. 

Allstate alleges the group's "Telemarketers, at times, misrepresent that they are automobile insurance company representatives" and that Allstate, as the representative of at-fault motorists, was billed "...for unnecessary and unreasonable treatment..."

Tennessee health records confirm Plambeck is a licensed chiropractor fit to practice in the state.  But last November, the state issued him a $600 penalty and a demand for proof of 24 hours of continuing education credits after Plambeck "...failed to properly maintain or submit sufficient continuing education credits."

Doug Pierce, a Nashville attorney who claims to represent Chiropractic Strategies Group, says neither Coates nor his staff are telemarketing accident victims.  In a phone interview, he suggested that the calls are coming from medical doctors who are "referring" the accident victims to Coates.

Shortly after that interview, Presley Chiropractic faxed this statement with no personal attribution:

"Dr. Coates...has no history of disciplinary actions against his license.  Dr. Coates continues to perform his duties in accordance with the rules and statutes governing his license.

The issue with Dr. Plambeck's Tennessee license was a clerical error that was rectified, and his license in Tennessee, as in all other states, is in good standing.  Dr. Plambeck has no record of sanctions.

Allstate's lawsuit is old news and was widely reported in March 2008 when it was filed.  The suit does not involve any activities in Tennessee.  Because the case is in litigation, we will not offer any further commentary on it.

Sincerely,

Presley Chiropractic"

Sharp has filed a complaint with the Tennessee Board of Chiropractic Examiners.  But with just 17 investigators to cover every health discipline in the state, Cole says the investigation could take two to three years.

"We're all quite frustrated with it, but there's not much we can do about it," Cole says.

According to an Action News 5 Tennessee open records request, only one chiropractor has been disciplined in the last five years for violating the board's telemarketing rules.  Dr. Roger William Byrd of Jupiter, FL, operated Airport Health Center in Memphis, address unlisted.  The board revoked Byrd's chiropractic license last year after he used employees at his Florida office to telemarket Tennessee auto accident victims in violation of the 30-day rule. 

The board's order says Byrd "...engaged in a continuing pattern of telemarketing in violation of the Rules of the Tennessee Board of Chiropractic Examiners over a number of years using a number of employees at various clinics..."

No one answered the phone at Byrd's Florida residence.

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