But we don’t have to imagine it, because it’s happening right now. A recent study by Public Opinion Strategies found that one out of four respondents who viewed a trial lawyer ad accusing a medication of being dangerous said they would immediately stop taking their medicine without consulting a doctor.
Florida has long been in the eye of the lawyer-advertising hurricane. In a recent study conducted by the American Tort Reform Association (ATRA), the Tampa-St. Petersburg and Miami-Fort Lauderdale media markets saw a large rate of legal service-related advertising in April through June of this year.
In the nearly two million homes in Tampa and St. Petersburg, lawyers, law firms and other legal services firms spent an estimated $4.7 million to broadcast 58,000 ads. For those not doing the math, that totals to an average of 630 ads every day or, to paint an even more alarming picture, one ad every two minutes from April through June. Meanwhile, in the pricier Miami-Fort Lauderdale media market, lawyers spent $4.9 million to broadcast 33,000 local legal service ads. To put it in perspective, there were ten times as many legal television ads as there were pizza delivery and restaurant commercials.
In many cases, these ads undermine the simple notion that physicians and health care providers, and not lawyers, should be the source of medical advice. For instance, legal service ads should not be presented as medical, health, or consumer alerts. In fact, these ads should instead make very clear that a person should not stop taking prescribed, FDA-approved medication unless instructed to do so by their doctor.
Patients should not be discouraged from taking vital medications without consulting their doctor. Drug lawsuit ads only serve to drive a wedge between doctors and their patients who have been led to believe the drugs are dangerous. Freedom of commercial speech should not place patients at risk. In sum, television lawsuit advertising should not become a form of medical advice.
William Large is the president of the Florida Justice Reform Institute.