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Board acts on two Standing Committee on Advertising decisions

Senior Editor Regular News

Thomas Bopp A law firm’s attempt at humor failed to win over a tough crowd when the Board of Governors voted not to allow use of the billboard slogan “Ambulances Chase Us.”

At a September 20 meeting in Destin, the board voted to uphold a Standing Committee on Advertising decision that the slogan is deceptive or misleading under Rule 4-7.13(a) because it is “both unethical and illegal for ambulance drivers to solicit cases for lawyers and because it is factually and legally inaccurate.”

The Board Review Committee on Professional Ethics voted 6-3 the day before to affirm the SCA finding that the advertisement, by Ft. Lauderdale personal injury firm Friedland & Associates, is impermissible.

“Basically, what a majority of the committee found was that it was inaccurate,” said BRC Chair and 13th Circuit board member Thomas Bopp.

BRC Vice Chair Michael Orr, who represents the Fourth Circuit, was quick to point out that “everybody in this room gets the joke,” but, he added, “I’m not sure that’s the case for the general public.

“Yes, they may call some lawyers ambulance chasers, but putting the advertisement out there that ambulances chase us is factually inaccurate, and I believe it is material, it’s the only thing on the billboard,” Orr said.

Some board members disagreed, viewing it as a “tongue-in-cheek” slogan.

Sixteenth Circuit board member Wayne Smith said his 20-year-old firm has never advertised, but he saw no reason to fight this one.

“I don’t think it’s misleading, and in fact, I think perhaps they were saying this is sort of a counter assault on the fairly common jokes about lawyers being ambulance chasers or sharks, we all know the pejorative terms that are used,” Smith said. “I maintain my position that this is not misleading and that we should overturn the standing committee.”

Ninth Circuit board member Wayne Helsby agreed.

“This is just a play on words, it’s clever, and I don’t think the public is being misled,” Helsby said. “I don’t think the public is looking at it and saying, well, ambulances really are following these people.”

When board members were told that the law firm is reworking the slogan, a motion was made to defer the decision. But the motion failed.

The board then voted 18-14 to uphold the SCA finding that the slogan is impermissible.

At the same meeting, the board also voted, without debate, to reverse a Standing Committee on Advertising determination regarding billboards that advertise the telephone number “1-800-411-PAIN.”

On June 27, the Standing Committee on Advertising determined that billboards are misleading under Rule 4-7.13(a) because the advertisements are on behalf of the private law firm Kanner & Pintaluga, P.A., but advertise the telephone number “1-800-411-Pain” in North and Southwest Florida that was used by the now-defunct referral service 1-800-411-Pain and is currently being used by a new qualifying provider/lawyer referral service, Path, in Southeast and Central Florida.

The law firm argued, among other things, that the advertisements are not misleading because they clearly show the law firm’s name. The firm also will answer the phone with the law firm’s name at the BRC’s request.