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LEO barring Medicare indemnity is approved

A legal ethics opinion declaring it unethical for plaintiffs’ lawyers to indemnify insurance companies against unforeseen liens has been approved by the Virginia State Bar’s Standing Committee on Legal Ethics.

LEO 1858 holds it improper for the insurance company lawyer to even ask for indemnity.

The committee issued the opinion Wednesday despite opposition from some quarters. Critics complained a draft of the LEO failed to recognize the difficulties faced by all parties settling personal injury claims when Medicare might be involved. The LEO does not even mention Medicare.

Medicare lien practice remains in flux, with insurance companies and lawyers on both sides of personal injury claims seeking protection from liability for unpaid government obligations. Many insurance companies have asked plaintiffs’ lawyers to hold the insurers harmless from any unpaid government claims. In one case, a Richmond judge refused to force the plaintiff’s lawyer to sign such an indemnity agreement in a personal injury settlement.

The ethics panel also approved LEO 1857 barring criminal plea agreements where the defendant agrees to give up any future claim for ineffective assistance of counsel.

The opinion addresses language formerly used in some federal plea agreements — the defendant would have to agree not to file any document seeking to disturb any order in the case. As we reported in May, the language is no longer used in federal plea deals in Virginia.

-By Peter Vieth

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