FUELING THE PERSONAL INJURY LAWSUIT MACHINE
Just as the way some iconic advertising campaigns might create among us a unique cultural bond, TV watchers and internet surfers today share a common experience. We’re all aware of – and annoyed by – personal injury lawyer advertisements, “If you’ve ever been injured, call now for a free consultation…”
Personal injury lawyer advertising is a huge presence on our TV screens and computer searches. It’s also the most visible element of the vicious cycle of lawsuit abuse in this country. Where does the money come from for these ads? Personal injury lawyers get rich filing lawsuits that are often weak on facts or fueled by imbalanced laws. The bounty they reap from these lawsuits goes into the huge volume of injury ads that we see constantly, so they can recruit more plaintiffs for more questionable lawsuits.
About $900 million was spent last year on personal injury ads on TV alone, according to a U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform report. Online, more than 90 percent of the top 25 most expensive Google search terms are related to litigation, according to the report, and the high prices are bid up by high advertiser demand.
Why advertise 24/7 for lawsuit plaintiffs? To create “class members” for personal injury lawyers to bring mass tort lawsuits. What happens to the millions of plaintiffs signed up by the ads and web links? They are bought and sold by the lawsuit generators as if they were cattle or corn futures. Who regulates these ads to make sure they are truthful and ethical? As you might have guessed from looking at the ads, they are barely regulated at all – but they should be!
This aggressive plaintiff recruitment comprises just part of the cycle of lawsuit abuse – lawsuit friendly laws make personal injury lawyers rich as they file more and more lawsuits, and lawsuit riches buys nearly a billion in TV ads to gin up more plaintiffs and wealth-producing lawsuits. The rest of the cycle of lawsuit abuse is the personal injury lawyers putting their money into political campaigns and supporting pro-lawsuit politicians who help to preserve the imbalanced laws – and try to create new ones. Seem a little complicated? It’s not, and we’ve laid it out with a few graphics here.
So the next time you see a personal injury ad that is giving you advice about what to do, remember these three things:
You shouldn’t believe everything you see in the largely unregulated world of personal injury lawyer advertising.
Personal injury lawyer advertising can mislead and scare consumers on important issues, such as their health care.
Personal injury lawsuits are often about making those lawyers rich, not making victims whole.
ANYTHING GOES WITH PERSONAL INJURY ADS
While our country has regulatory agencies whose mission it is to ensure that advertisements are accurate and straightforward for American consumers, one group evades advertising regulation: personal injury lawyers. This group is flooding the airwaves and internet with ads making unsubstantiated or hyperbolic claims to lure potential plaintiffs into lawsuits that make these personal injury lawyers millions.
We’re all familiar with the ominous ads that warn about health dangers or a long list of side effects and promising cash compensation to patients. Yet these sensationalized lawsuit ads do not disclose the low probability of experiencing an adverse health effect. That’s because lawsuit ads are not subject to the same level of oversight for accuracy and disclosure as advertising for other industries.
The disparity is clear when you look at how strictly other ads discussing health treatments are regulated. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) regulates all consumer product ads that where company’s product can affect consumers’ health, insisting that these ads must:
be truthful and non-deceptive
have evidence to back up claims
not be unfair, and
include only accurate testimonials that disclose any information that might influence buyers
None of these requirements exist for lawsuit ads, which largely can say whatever they want about the effects of health treatments or products. Without regulation, personal injury lawyers can dramatize product risks while acknowledging none of the benefits.
Additionally, the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) requires that product claim ads must present the benefits and risks of a prescription drug in a balanced fashion. Companies are required to list the most significant risks of the drug. Similar to the FTC, the FDA requires that these ads must not be false or misleading in any way.
These restrictions do not apply to lawsuit ads, which are often intentionally misleading. There is a rigorous testing and claim substantiation that drugs must go through for all marketable claims, but no such process exists for lawsuit ads. Thus, we see ads with unsubstantiated claims from studies personal injury lawyers may have commissioned or from doctors who are on their payroll. That simply doesn’t seem balanced.
Even cosmetic ads are regulated more strictly than lawsuit ads. Cosmetic ads are subject to the same advertising regulations that the FTC uses for other industries (i.e., fair, backed by evidence, non-deceptive, etc.) These regulations exist for a reason, and personal injury lawyer ads should be held to the same standards as demanded of other advertisers.
There is harm in allowing lawsuit ads to continue to make misleading claims – it can be can be dangerous for consumers, who are repeatedly hearing these wild, unregulated proclamations. American consumers are inundated with personal injury lawyer advertisements – we can’t escape them. In fact, nationwide, personal injury lawyers spend up to $75 million each month on this advertising.
As a result of this onslaught of panic-inducing ads, patients are increasingly discontinuing health care treatments that their physician believes would provide them with significant benefits and pose little risk. Americans are listening to unregulated ads instead of their doctors, which has doctors concerned. That’s why the American Medical Association, an organization representing more than 200,000 physicians and medical students, recommended that lawsuit advertisements come with a warning that patients should first consult with a physician before discontinuing medications.
These advertising tactics are intended to generate lawsuits and enrich personal injury lawyers. Consumers deserve, and should demand, greater responsibility and disclosure in lawsuit advertising. For now, consumers must recognize that these ads are not always accurate, and personal injury lawyers have a vested interested in scaring audiences into lawsuits. Don’t fall for it, and don’t get trapped in their web.
How Big Data Is Big Bucks for Personal Injury Lawyers
Texans Against Lawsuit Abuse shared our take on big data and the increase in certain lawsuits in a recent letter to the editor in the Dallas Morning News. It also serves as a good reminder: “Don’t Let a Lawyer Be Your Doctor.”
Texas trial lawyers have a history of searching for ways to make millions of dollars at the expense of our health care system, ultimately reducing access to health care, driving up the cost of consumer goods and limiting job creation.
The recent story, “Health insurers fear Texas trial lawyers are seeking billions, but attorneys say that’s hype” (March 30), shows how the combination of big data and health care can create a gold mine for personal injury lawyers.
So, when sick or injured consumers get a call from a lawyer, not a doctor, Texans Against Lawsuit Abuse is urging caution through a new Sick of Lawsuits (www.sickoflawsuits.org) campaign. The public needs to be aware of the millions spent on misleading television and online advertising.
“Don’t let a lawyer be your doctor,” is sage advice and something TALA is working to ensure that Texans hear and act on. What lawsuit ads don’t say can be harmful. When it comes to lawsuits involving a person’s health, consumers should examine the source carefully.
Jennifer Harris, Austin, Texans Against Lawsuit Abuse (as published by the Dallas Morning News)
Personal injury lawyer advertising is a huge presence on our TV screens and computer searches. It’s also the most visible element of the vicious cycle of lawsuit abuse in this country. Where does the money come from for these ads? Personal injury lawyers get rich filing lawsuits that are often weak on facts or fueled by imbalanced laws. For Answers to any questions you may have please call Dr. Jimenez at 915-850-0900