The recent arrest of New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver on charges of bribery related to mesothelioma and asbestos litigation has called attention to the intense and expensive competition for clients in this lucrative area of mass tort litigation.
Nowhere has this battle played out more prominently than in TV advertisements broadcast across the country at all hours of the day and night.
While drug and medical device mass tort advertising declined in December, mesothelioma ad spending increased 15% and total spending was greater than that spent on ads targeting the top 11 drugs combined.
Federal prosecutors allege that Silver funneled state grants to a doctor who referred asbestos claims to a law firm that paid him over $5 million in salary and referral fees although, according to prosecutors, he “never performed any legal work whatsoever.”
The law firm, Weitz & Luxenberg, has long been a leader in representing plaintiffs alleging that exposure to asbestos caused caused mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer.
Each mesothelioma case can be worth an average of $1.5 to $2 million and, typically, the plaintiff’s counsel collects about one-third of that sum in contingency fees.
To secure these large awards, plaintiffs’ personal injury firms aggressively compete to represent those afflicted with the disease.
In December, over 35 law firms and lead generation companies spent $4.7 million to air over 6,500 mesothelioma ads on television. The Akin Mears law firm accounted for nearly half of the ad spending last month with nearly $2.2 million.
The competition for mesothelioma clients is national in scope. Mesothelioma and asbestos ads appeared on local broadcast networks in nearly every media market across the country and over 85% of all ad spending was devoted to ads aired on national broadcast and cable television networks.
In addition to television, advertising online has become an active and expensive method for reaching potential victims.
A recent examination of the most expensive keywords in Google AdWords found that the keyword phrase “lawyer for mesothelioma” costs $849.71 per click.
The aggressive advertising on TV and online for asbestos victims is expected to continue in light of recent multimillion dollar jury awards, the announcement of a $358 million settlement by Garlock Sealing Technologies and the billions set aside in trusts for victims by other defendants.
The US Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation reports that over 190,000 cases have been litigated in the asbestos multidistrict litigation and over 2,000 cases are currently pending.
In response to the Silver case, a longtime critic of alleged corruption in asbestos cases, Lisa Rickard of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Institute for Legal Reform, said, "It's time for a serious look into potential criminal activity relating to abusive asbestos litigation so that we can end this shameful abuse of our civil justice system."
Silver will take a leave of absence from Weitz & Luxenberg until the allegations are resolved. The firm has not been charged and denies any prior knowledge of any wrongdoing.
Sample of Mesothelioma Mass Tort Advertisements Broadcast in December: