Coming Soon to the Golden State: Truth in Legal Advertising

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May 16, 2018

By, Bryan Quigley, Senior Vice President, Strategic Communications, U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform

Plaintiffs’ lawyers spend hundreds of millions of dollars on lawsuit advertising. A lot of this money flows to ads for lawsuits targeting prescription drugs and medical devices. The imagery is all too familiar: the TV screen flashes red, an ambulance siren goes off, spray-tanned actors dressed like doctors pronounce exaggerated warnings in dire tones, and at the end a number shows up on screen and the viewer is encouraged to join a lawsuit.

Aside from being annoying and over-dramatized, many of these ads are misleading, manipulative, and even dangerous for consumers. A recent study from the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform (ILR) found that 29 percent of respondents currently taking prescription medications would definitely or probably stop taking their prescriptions after seeing a lawsuit ad targeting them. Food and Drug Administration reporting cited in that same study shows that through 2016, 61 people had stopped taking anti-coagulant medication after seeing such ads. Six of them died soon after.

Clearly, there are real public health consequences of misleading attorney advertising. Thankfully, California legislators are well-positioned to address the problem. This week, the California Assembly is scheduled to vote on A.B. 3217, a bill that would classify misleading drug and device lawsuit ads as unlawful under the state’s consumer protection statute. This would be a small step on a long road—but it would also be the first time a state has ever taken meaningful action to address the issue. 

It is often said that “as California goes, so goes the nation.” In this case, both businesses and consumers should keep an eye on A.B. 3217, and hope that axiom holds true.