Last week, a three-judge panel unanimously upheld a West Virginia law that prohibits trial lawyers and lead generator firms from sponsoring television ads that claim to be “medical alerts” and “public service announcements.” These ads have scared people into discontinuing prescribed medications, sometimes with catastrophic consequences.
In an interview with WVOW radio, West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey praised the ruling. “I am pleased with the Circuit Court’s decision upholding West Virginia law. One function of the Attorney General’s Office is to enforce the state’s consumer protection laws, like this statute. It is designed to prevent misleading or confusing ads in order to safeguard the health and safety of the citizens of West Virginia. As the order states, ‘all West Virginia requires is that attorneys truthfully present themselves as attorneys.’”
The case was brought before the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals after trial lawyers sued in federal court shortly after the law was enacted in 2020. A district court ruled that portions of the law ran afoul of the First Amendment, but AG Morrisey appealed the ruling, arguing that a state isn’t blocking free speech when it bans misleading ads.
The opinion cites ILR’s 2017 research, Bad for Your Health: Lawsuit Advertising, Implications and Solutions, which outlines how lawsuit ads for doctor-prescribed drugs have scared people into stopping their medications, sometimes with horrible consequences. The full opinion can be found here.
The Chamber’s Litigation Center filed an amicus brief in the case, arguing that the Fourth Circuit should reverse the misapplication of First Amendment doctrine to the statute. The Litigation Center was also invited to participate in an oral argument—a rare occurrence. Audio of the arguments is available here.
A total of five states – Indiana, Kansas, Tennessee, Texas, and West Virginia – have now enacted laws to rein in misleading ads soliciting plaintiffs for lawsuits. Thanks to AG Morrisey’s efforts to appeal the district court ruling, West Virginia citizens are protected from misleading legal ads.