Gomez: Lawyers ramp up advertising under COVID. Why?
Santa Clara County Superior Courthouse in downtown San Jose. Image by Will Buckner, via Flicker

Under the current economic slowdown, most Americans have spent time thinking about how they will cut personal spending, how they will pay their rent or mortgage, and some are also asking themselves how long they can endure this economy that is hanging on by a thread. Our local small business owners have worked hard to find new ways to keep their restaurant or retail store afloat, cutting back as much as possible so that they can raise themselves out of this economic disaster as soon as it is safe to do so.

Most of us have cut spending—except trial attorneys.

Since March of 2020, lawyers, law firms and other legal advertisers have inundated the advertising waves with ads encouraging anyone who wants to make a quick buck to give them a call. Since states and counties launched shelter-in-place orders back in March of 2020, lawyers have spent more than you can imagine on ads mentioning COVID-19. These entrepreneurial personal injury lawyers saw yet another opportunity to profit from a national crisis. They have not been shy about spending the money on ads to get your attention. This was a strategy, not an accident.

Early in the crisis, law firms specializing in frivolous lawsuits organized and formed the “Coronavirus Litigation Task Force” to identify targets and theories for litigation. Before you knew it, new law firm websites started springing up left and right, inviting people to blame their illness or family member’s death on someone rather than on the virus. Some websites provide a roadmap for suing for contracting COVID-19 at work. From March through December of 2020, 176,053 advertisements for legal services or soliciting legal claims mentioning COVID-19 or coronavirus aired in the United States at an estimated cost of $34.4 million. As of February 1, 2021, 8,200 lawsuits related to COVID-19 have been filed in the United States.

Recent data from the American Tort Reform Association shows just how important it is for state legislatures to seek legislative solutions to support health care workers, businesses, and their employees who have been on the frontlines, responding to the pandemic. Another poll shows broad bipartisan support for elected officials to respond to pandemic-related issues rather than lawyers filing lawsuits to address these concerns. Key findings show 74% of respondents said the government should support small businesses affected by COVID-19 with grants or loans, versus 6% who said lawyers should help small businesses pursue legal claims instead.

To date, 21 states and the District of Columbia have enacted some level of COVID-19 liability protections. Unfortunately, California is not one of them. This needs to change. I challenge our local delegation of legislators to stop kicking the can down the road and provide liability protection before it’s too late for our small business community.

Victor Gomez is executive director of California Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse. He wrote this piece for San José Spotlight, and is on its board of directors.

 

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