FTC Cracks Down on Class Action Advertising: Will it Harm Consumers?

In an action that threatens to infringe upon the legal rights of possible plaintiffs, the Federal Trade Commission has restricted television advertisements that inform people of lawsuits against drug companies. According to the FTC, these lawsuits give consumers false impressions that certain drugs have been recalled or that the FDA has issued certain medical alerts. As a result, many consumers who may have been harmed by these drugs may not know that they have the ability to sue the company that sold these medications and will not be in a position to receive financial compensation.

There is no question that mass tort litigation against drug companies is big business for all involved. Plaintiffs’ lawyers do have a vested interest in getting word of the possible lawsuits out to the general public. The more plaintiffs that come forward, the higher the damages that the drug companies will have to pay. In turn, the more that the pharmaceutical companies have to pay out, the higher the lawyers’ paycheck. At the same time, this means that injured consumers also have their day in court and can be made whole financially for the injuries that they have suffered.

Mass tort litigation advertising is a nine-figure annual business and expenditures routinely exceed $100 million. The advertisements alert the consumers that there is a possible problem with medication that they have taken and then provide them with the contact information for an attorney with whom they can consult. These advertisements have become ubiquitous, especially during daytime and weekend programming when television ad time is less expensive.

The FTC Accuses Attorneys of Misleading the Public

The FTC’s issue with these advertising is that the regulator feels that they convey a false impression that there is some FDA alert or that the drug has been pulled from the market. The government believes that this may convince people to stop taking these particular medications when there is no compelling need to do so. As a result, the FTC has sent warning letters to seven law firms that are involved in these advertisements. The FTC cautioned these attorneys that the claims that they male in their advertising must have a scientific basis. At the same time, the FTC insisted that it did not take issue with attorney advertising in general when it comes to class action lawsuits.

One of the concern is that, by dissuading lawyers from placing these advertisements, people may eventually not know of the possibility of being able to sue drug makers. While the FTC warnings do not ban attorney advertising, they may have a chilling effect on the practice and may keep some of the attorney off of the airwaves.

The Valuable Role of Class Action Attorneys

While class action attorneys make for a popular target, they serve a valuable role in society. These lawyers help clients who would ordinarily not be able to take action themselves obtain justice against drug companies that marketed and sold dangerous products. It is difficult for the average plaintiff to file a lawsuit against a pharmaceutical company due to the fact that these lawsuits are scientifically intensive and require the presentation of many technical details. In addition, drug makers also have an army of highly-compensated lawyers at their disposal and will vigorously fight any claims that their products are dangerous. As a result, obtaining compensation is a drawn-out and tough process, and class action lawyers are there to help injured patients.

At the same time, details of these lawsuits may not be known to the general public. People may be feeling some symptoms of drug complications but not even know what they are feeling. Class action lawsuit advertising is a way for the public to both learn that there is a possible problem as well as to understand that they are able to receive compensation for their injuries. Anything that serves to keep this advertising off the air is a way to keep the public from knowing of their legal rights.

Still, there is room for attorney advertising to stay on the air so long as the advertisers follow the FTC’s rules. Attorneys will have to be careful with the claims that they make about the drug while still managing to alert consumers of their ability to file a lawsuit against the manufacturer. The FTC’s action will have an adverse effect if advertisements are not able to get viewers’ attention.

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