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.