CHARLESTON – West Virginians could be misled by ads and online information about treating medical conditions, a state legal reform groups says.
According to West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse (WV CALA), a recently released study finds that much of what we learn about drugs or treatments to cure an ailment or health-related problem is not from a doctor, but a personal injury lawyers.
"Personal injury lawyer ads and Web sites about a drug on the market often mislead consumers about the product as a way to troll for new clients," WV CALA Executive Director Steve Cohen said.
He cited the conclusion of the New York-based Center for Medicine in the Public Interest which reports that the public unknowingly relies on facts from personal injury lawyers as medical authority.
"These lawsuit industry tactics compound a survey in which 77 percent of West Virginians believed personal injury lawyer ads encourage people to sue even if they have not been injured," Cohen said. "With families finding it more convenient to seek a medical remedy online than consulting their family physician they could unwittingly fall into a trap."
The CMPI study says internet searches about illnesses are "dominated" by "either class-action law firms or legal marketing" referral services and, "with few exceptions" deliver information with "no medical authority whatsoever" that could be nothing more than "lawyers posing as medical experts."
Cohen said WV CALA is calling on the State Bar to police its profession so medical information lawyers present can be trusted and their identities are clearly disclosed.
"The CMPI report warns that personal injury lawyers packaging these messages scare us into doubting potential health benefits and overstating risks," Cohen said. "We constantly see overblown representations that if you take a certain drug you are at risk of a dangerous side effect and you must sue.
"Plaintiffs lawyers are stoking the coals of confusion."
Cohen notes at least one Charleston personal injury lawyer has an entire section on his Web site with a lengthy checklist of medications on the market whose manufacturers he routinely sues.
Cohen also said a member of the law firm headed by state Supreme Court nominee Menis Ketchum is fighting recently enacted laws designed to keep Mountain State hospital emergency rooms and trauma centers open and prevent doctors from going out of state to establish their practices.
CMPI says that "patients may choose not to take the medication based on the information they find online, even though the benefits of the medication outweigh the risks."
The Associated Press reported last year on a sampling which found that more than half of 402 randomly surveyed psychiatrists who treat patients with bipolar disorder or schizophrenia indicated that some of those patients stopped taking their medication, or reduced their dosage upon seeing ads from personal injury lawyers.
"This lawsuit racket is an injustice to those with legitimate claims," Cohen said. "This mining for clients in speculative litigation puts lives at risk."