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Congressman Targets 'Fearmongering' Lawyer Advertisements

By William Vogeler, Esq. on March 16, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

U.S. Congressman Bob Goodlatte is on a campaign against lawyer ads, calling out attorneys who are 'fearmongering' by advertising the dangers of certain medications to get clients.

The congressman has written a letter to bar associations in every state and some lawyers, warning them about the "far more dangerous" repercussions of the personal injury ads. Goodlatte, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, quoted a resolution from the American Medical Association:

"The onslaught of attorneys ads has the potential to frighten patients and place fear between them and their doctor," he wrote. "By emphasizing side effects while ignoring the benefits or the fact that the medication is FDA approved, these ads jeopardize patient care. For many patients, stopping prescribed medications is far more dangerous, and we need to be looking out for them."

Side Effects of Advertising

Goodlatte, a controversial advocate in the House, said some advertisements have had deadly results. According to reports, he said, 75 percent of patients who stopped taking the targeted medications suffered strokes or similar consequences. Two of them died after heeding the lawyers' ads.

"These reports are extremely alarming and bring into clear focus the rationale for the AMA's resolution," he said. "If implemented, their recommendation would ensure that legal advertsing is not deceptive and that patients are not scared into discontinuing their prescribed medication."

In his letter to the bar associations, including the American Bar Association, Goodlatte encouraged them to require all legal advertisements include a disclaimer advising people to consult a doctor before discontinuing their medications. He said the legal profession should regulate itself by "immediately adopting common sense reforms."

However, Goodlatte also let some legal groups know that his office will follow up on them. He is literally taking names and numbers, demanding to know who is responsible for the advertisements and how much money is involved.

Names and Numbers

In a letter to The Relion Group Legal Network, a national association of lawyers advertising for business involving certain drugs, medical devices and other personal injury matters, Goodlatte asked for specific and sensitive information, including:

  • What law firms are members of the Relion Group Legal Network?
  • Do you obtain written consent from patients to share medical information and (personal identification information) with law firms or other third parties?
  • In addition to lawyers or law firms, please identify any other third party to whom you have transferred personally identifying information for any purpose, including marketing purposes?

The 14-point list of questions goes on and bears a real resemblance to special interrogatories. But since we're talking about warnings, disclosures and congress, we can imagine a half dozen government agencies could potentially be interested in the information, including:

  • The Federal Drug Administration Commission
  • The Department of Health & Human Services
  • The Federal Trade Commission

Want information on effective advertising? Let the experts at FindLaw's Lawyer Marketing give you a hand.

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