CHARLESTON -– A recent study says advertisements seeking potential plaintiffs for medical malpractice lawsuits have increased nearly 1,400 percent in the last four years.
In West Virginia, however, that isn't the case because of medical malpractice reforms enacted a few years ago.
In a study released Tuesday, the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform said the number of the TV spots has increased from about 10,150 ads in 2004 to more than 156,000 ads in 2008, marking a nearly 1,400 percent increase.
The study by the ILR, which owns The West Virginia Record, also said spending on med-mal advertisements has increased from $3.8 million to nearly $62 million during the same period.
In a statement, ILR President Lisa Rickard said medical malpractice litigation is a growing part of the U.S. legal landscape.
"Lawsuits are ultimately a business driven by the plaintiffs' bar, and when you see the marketing of medical malpractice lawsuits exploding like this, it tells you that these lawsuits are a growing sector within the larger lawsuit industry," Rickard said.
The president of the West Virginia Association for Justice said he hasn't seen that increase here.
"I cannot speak for the rest of country, not do I want to speak for the rest of the country," Timothy C. Bailey said. "I can speak solely based on my knowledge of what is going on here in West Virginia. There seems to be very little attorney advertising for medical malpractice cases here in West Virginia."
Bailey said he's seen another type of advertising increase.
"In fact, if I've seen any explosion in advertising it has been the incredible amount of advertising by hospitals and medical practices on all of our area stations every day," he said. "I imagine that, like any advertising costs for other businesses, the bills for all of that expensive advertising is passed on to their patients as a 'cost of doing business.'
"Apparently, it is the position of the Institute for Legal Reform that the medical community can advertise and peddle its services, but attorneys who live in the same country under the same Constitution shouldn't have the same rights."
The ILR study was conducted by the Campaign Media Analysis Group.
Rickard noted that in August, Democratic National Committee Chairman Dr. Howard Dean said President Barack Obama's push for a national health care overhaul would likely not contain legal reforms because trial lawyers, a key Democratic constituency, oppose them.
"This study is yet another piece of evidence that we need meaningful medical liability reform as a key ingredient of any workable healthcare reform package," Rickard said.
Charleston attorney Harry Bell, whose firm does television advertising, agreed that he hasn't seen medical malpractice advertising locally, and he attributes that to the Medical Professional Liability Act and other similar changes that have been enacted in recent years.
He noted that caps were instituted on non-economic losses – such as pain and suffering – to $500,000 in death cases and $250,000 in non-death cases.
"Given the substantial sums of money put into public awareness campaigns about medical malpractice reform, people are very reluctant to spend money on those types of cases," Bell said.
Bell also said lawyers and firms have, over the years, shifted the ways they buy advertising.
"You use to have to buy the Yellow Pages," he said. "But that industry has become more fragmented, more competitive. You have to ask if you're really getting the best bang for the buck there.
"And, of course, there is the advent of the Internet. Today, we find that many of our clients who contact us really like coming to us on the Internet.
"On TV, you'll see different people there. I think you find, on cable TV for example, you can make an ad buy and tell them very specifically where you want the ads to be seen."
Bell, whose firm advertising primarily regarding nursing home abuse and death cases, said television ads do bring potential clients to his office.
"We have a lot of expertise and experience in a niche market," he said. "And we highlight that in the television commercials. I think people need to know who they're dealing with. As a local firm, we pay taxes in this community. Our employees live and work here. I hope people factor that in when they contact us."