Should Mass Torts Plaintiffs’ Lawyers Be Allowed to Use PPP Money to Increase Their TV Advertising Spend?

Womble Bond Dickinson

Womble Bond Dickinson

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Plaintiffs’ lawyers spent $67M between January and May on mass tort TV advertising, a 6.6% increase from the same time last year. As many of us work from home, learn from home, or are otherwise stuck at home due to the pandemic, this spend is likely to increase. After all, a central component of the Mass Torts plaintiffs’ bar business plan is the ability to amass thousands of lawsuits. That’s why whenever an allegedly defective product is targeted by the plaintiffs’ bar, the lawyers focus on advertising, searching for clients who can claim to be hurt by the product. They call it “client acquisition” or “lead generation”; I call it trolling for clients on TV [think glyphosate and the Roundup ads].

Last Fall, the Federal Trade Commission sent warning letters to several attorneys indicating concern that some of their mass tort TV ads mislead the public. If you have ever seen a lawsuit ad targeting prescription drugs (and there is no way you haven’t), you know the formula. Ads usually begin as a “medical alert” to capture attention. Some flash the FDA logo or a black box warning label. Others feature hospitalized patients. All conclude with ominous warnings, and usually the words “including death.” The FTC letters highlighted a number of concerns with these sensationalized ads: they left consumers with the false impression medications had been recalled, they made unsubstantiated claims about the risks of certain drugs, they misled consumers into thinking they were watching a public service announcement, and they even led consumers who saw the ads to stop taking the prescribed medications, causing adverse consequences.

With that backdrop, it is worth pointing out that ten law firms among the year’s 20 top mass tort TV advertisers were approved for as much as $49.7M through the Paycheck Protection Program, according to U.S. Small Business Administration data. The top recipients include Morgan & Morgan, the Florida-based personal injury law firm that I see advertising multiple times a day. How much of our government’s money, which is supposed to keep paychecks flowing to American workers, is being spent on coronavirus-related lawsuit advertising? Plaintiffs’ lawyers stand ready to help us with “effects” of coronavirus, including nursing home neglect, funeral home negligence, wrongful termination, and more. We are in the middle of a serious public health crisis. A flood of litigation is not a solution. Entrepreneurial plaintiffs’ lawyers should not be permitted to profit off of COVID-19 by using funds intended to protect jobs for TV advertising instead.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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