Another lawyer ad? Won't be fooled again!

Steve Cohen

By STEVE COHEN There's that jingle again, about the personal injury lawyer who won't take "no" for an answer. Then there's the ad from another personal injury lawyer who asks, "In a wreck? Get a check!" One personal injury lawyer is hawking a FREE SPECIAL REPORT for accident victims. His "warning" is not to talk to anyone after an accident until reading his special report, which raises the question if that includes the emergency medical experts at the scene, or the doctor in the ER? My friend Tom told me that his son came home from soccer practice the other day and asked if his teammate's dad is a doctor. "No, he's a lawyer," Tom replied. "Why do you ask?" His son responded that he often sees and hears his teammate's dad on TV and radio saying, "If you've been in an accident, call me ..." Even state Senator Truman Chafin, whose personal fortune is tied to jury verdicts, says being a lawyer "has eroded into a carnival-like thing, akin to a blue-light special, touted on a used-car lot." He has called such ads "shameful" and "fraudulent." With April Fools Day upon us, the often quoted phrase comes to mind: "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me." While we can try to have a sense of humor about the barrage of advertising from the personal injury lawsuit industry, some of these ads are out-of-control. Misleading legal claims and exaggerations in lawyer advertising can scare consumers into thinking they have been harmed when they have not. More than three in four West Virginians believe personal injury advertising encourages people to sue even if they have not been injured, a recent West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse (WV CALA) survey found. Even the leader of West Virginia's approximately 600 personal injury lawyers, Harvey Peyton, says half of us get our information about lawyers from legal advertising, and 95 percent of this group have a negative view of lawyers. Peyton even disputes a West Virginia personal injury lawyer's jingle that "she won't take no for an answer" because, "there are certain times when you have to." The State Bar association is taking the issue seriously enough to draft guidelines for such hucksterism. And Peyton has even recommended putting disclaimers on lawyer ads. If the personal injury lawyers do take action to try to rein in their kind, it cannot come soon enough. Our neighbors in Kentucky recently took steps to try to bring personal injury lawyer advertising more dignified. Unless West Virginia can do the same, every day of the year may seem like April Fools Day when we see or hear such ads. Cohen is executive director of West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse, a nonprofit citizen watchdog group interested in a variety of civil justice issues. For more information, visit www.WVJusticeWatch.org or write to P.O. Box 127, Charleston, WV 25321.

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