When a Cottage Industry Backfires
In the past few months, we’ve spoken often about the ubiquitous presence of legal services advertising on the airwaves.
In addition to your standard car wreck and mesothelioma ads, ads targeting specific products, medications or medical devices are designed to catch people’s attention and compel them to take action (specifically, to call a lawyer).
But recently, there’s been a turn of events in one advertising cottage industry.
The New York Times reported last year on a widespread scheme targeting women with pelvic mesh implants. Using aggressive tactics, including cold calls to their homes and alarming advertising, the women were coaxed into having risky and often unnecessary surgical procedures to remove the mesh. According to the Times, these procedures made the women “more lucrative plaintiffs against medical device manufacturers.”
The women were told they wouldn’t have to pay up front for the cost of the procedure, and that their lawsuit awards would cover their expenses, plus some.
Many of the women suffered severe adverse reactions to the removal of the mesh, which is designed to adhere to tissue once it’s implanted. The procedures—which were often done quickly and at a surgical center in a strip mall—left them in extreme pain and with lifelong complications.
Unfortunately, many of the women found that once the costs of the lawsuit and surgery were removed from their legal awards, they were left with next to nothing. Some were left facing more expenses from the long term adverse effects of having the mesh removed.
Last week, the Times reported that some of the women have had enough.
“In recent weeks, women who received some of roughly $8 billion in settlements have sued their lawyers, accusing them of improperly enriching themselves with excessive fees or stretching themselves too thin to properly handle the pelvic mesh cases… The new suits are shining a light on some of the bad practices that can occur in mass tort cases, which sometimes operate like an assembly line, with lawyers rushing to sign up as many clients as they can and plaintiffs never getting a chance to speak to a lawyer.”
Texas firms have been named in these lawsuits. Among the claims against the firms is the allegation that the plaintiffs were never told their cases would be farmed out to another law firm to handle.
Cases like this are part of the reason why Texas passed Senate Bill 1189, creating common-sense consumer protections in advertisements for legal services. With this bill, ads for legal services must not use alarming language like “medical alert” or “health alert.” They must state that you should not stop using a medication without consulting a physician. And they must state who is paying for the ad and whether the firm in the ad will actually be the one to handle the case.
Imagine if these protections had already been in place. These women might have thought twice about signing up for a surgical procedure without consulting their doctors first. They might have questioned why their cases were not going to be handled by the law firm in the ad. And they might never have been scared enough by the language in these ads to sign up for a risky surgical procedure and litigation in the first place.
Knowledge is power. Texas is leading the nation in empowering consumers against deceptive and alarming legal services ads. Hopefully other states will soon follow suit so we can prevent another dangerous cottage industry like the one around pelvic mesh from popping up.