Guest Post: Scaring Patients to Scare Up Lawsuits

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By Dr. Clarke Smith, MD, FAAFP and Tom Scott

Note – this column was originally published in the Anaheim Independent on April 1, 2015. 

Personal injury lawyer advertisements cannot be trusted. Lawyers run these ads for one reason – to get people to join massive lawsuits so they can reap enormous legal fees. These lawyers aren’t doctors, and often their ads contain misleading or outright false information. Unfortunately, many people still take these ads at face value, causing them great anxiety over treatments and even leading them to make medical decisions based on bad information.

These ads run constantly. Usually they feature a lawyer urging the viewer to dial a number if they have taken a particular medication and experienced “any of the following symptoms,” and proceed to name a laundry list of symptoms that could actually be caused by anything from seasonal pollen to personal anxiety.

As a physician and a grassroots leader who has battled the personal injury lawyer agenda for decades, we know better than to pay attention to these ridiculous personal lawyer injury ads. Unfortunately, too many people do not.

But we can’t simply ignore them anymore. As the recent measles outbreak shows, spreading false medical information is dangerous. At this point, medical professionals have spent hours talking to patients, colleagues, and friends about the importance of vaccinations, trying to undo the damage caused by the discredited study from British gastroenterologist Dr. Andrew Wakefield that spawned the anti-vaccine movement.

For those unfamiliar with the issue, many parents have opted to avoid vaccinating their children based in large part on this study. The result has been an outbreak of measles in our country, which had been effectively eradicated in this country.

Most people are familiar with the fact that this study used fraudulent science and cherry-picked data. In other words, they know not to pay attention to it. However, one little known fact is that Dr. Wakefield received money directly from personal injury lawyers so they could use the study to prop up lawsuits against vaccine makers.

Those personal injury lawyer ads blaring out of our television sets have the power to do the same thing Dr. Wakefield’s study did: scare people into thinking every treatment could be dangerous, and scare them away from taking drugs they may need, and scare them into lawsuits. Unfortunately patients are surrounded by the constant barrage of ads which are then reinforced by the proliferation of suspect and misleading information that poses as health information online.  It’s impossible to avoid and all too easy to be misled.

While other products must post a litany of disclaimers and spell out every ingredient, calorie, side effect and warning for fear of violating regulations – or being sued for deceptive advertising– personal injury lawyer advertising is not held to the same standard. It is truly “consumer beware.”

So what’s the solution? First and foremost, don’t let a personal injury lawyer be your doctor. If you have questions or concerns about a treatment, discuss it with your doctor, not a personal injury lawyer. Don’t believe everything you see in a lawsuit ad.  These sensationalistic advertisements and much of the so-called health information online (especially if it offers to find a lawyer for you) is actually personal injury lawyer propaganda to scare up lawsuits and scare you away from the treatment you need. What these ads don’t say, can hurt you.

If the measles resurgence has taught us anything, it’s that bad information can have real, damaging and lasting impact when people take it as the truth and then act on it.  When it comes to our health we should only trust the most accountable, medically qualified sources. Personal injury lawyers do not fit into that category.

Dr. Clarke Smith, MD, FAAFP, is a family medicine doctor in Anaheim, California.

Tom Scott is the Executive Director of California Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse

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A project of Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse, Sick of Lawsuits is an online network of people who are interested in restoring integrity to our justice system by addressing issues surrounding legal reform. We encourage citizens to be empowered as legal consumers, take action against abuses, and help restore common sense and fairness to our legal system.


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