<strong>Chiropractors Should File Criminal Charges for Theft of Service</strong>
Filing criminal charges against a patient that stiffs a doctor on his/her bill under Texas Penal Code §31.04, entitled Theft of Services, is a remedy available to any doctor chiropractic that provides services to a patient upon that patient’s future promise to pay (e.g. in a personal injury/automobile accident case) and then settles the claim and runs off with the money – without paying for the services rendered by the Doctor.
Local prosecuting attorneys are reluctant to take these types of cases – often telling the doctor that the patient’s failure to pay is a “civil matter” and should be resolved between the doctor and the patient in a civil court (e.g. a Justice Court lawsuit). However, that is not the case.
While the patient’s failure to pay his/her bill IS a breach of contract by the patient and can certainly give rise to a civil suit filed by the doctor against the patient, under Texas Penal Code §31.04, that same action constitutes a criminal act and the local constabulary should file a case against the patient – if the doctor is sufficiently adamant in his/her desire to file AND the doctor properly dots all of his/her i’s and crosses all of his/her t’s.
Texas Penal Code §31,04 – theft of services expressly provides that it is an act of criminal theft for a patient to: “intentionally or knowingly secure the performance of the service by agreeing to provide compensation and, after the service is rendered, fail to make full payment [within 10 days] after receiving notice demanding payment.” (Texas Penal Code §31.04(a)(4).
However, in order for the doctor to be able to invoke this law and file against his/her patient the doctor must send a demand for payment in writing, by registered or certified mail with return receipt requested or by telegram with report of delivery requested. The doctor’s demand for payment must be addressed to the patient at his/her last known address, as shown on the service agreement. (Texas Penal Code §31.04(c)). A patient’s willful failure to pay a doctor’s bill in excess of $1,500 is defined as a state jail felony and is punishable by imprisonment in a county lockup facility for up to one year.
As a former prosecutor, I can tell you that if you get a case filed against your patient for not paying your bill, the patient will take the arrest warrant issued against him/her a lot more seriously that he/she will take your threats to send his/her to collection! When this type of case is filed and the patient is arrested, he/she will immediately start trying to get you to withdraw your complaint and you can do so after the patient pays his/her account balance. Generally a county prosecutor will allow your patient to plead down the charges on the condition that the patient makes full restitution to you, the doctor/complainant.
So, consider this a real live option to securing payment from dead-beat patients who try to steal your money.