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Court Looks at Validity of Legal Advertising Targeting Nursing Home Chain

Advertising Targeting Nursing Home ChainIn April 2016, the Georgia Supreme Court heard arguments over law firms running advertising against nursing facilities in the state. The case involved McHugh Fuller, a Hattiesburg Mississippi-based Law Group that focuses mainly on handling nursing home abuse cases. In 2015, the law group initiated an advertising campaign throughout Georgia against Pruitt Health, a large corporation that currently operates 90 assisted-living and skilled nursing facilities all throughout the United States.

Pruitt Health’s name and logo were used in the advertisement campaign along with photographs of one of the facilities in Georgia. The ad requested that individuals who suspect that a loved one was abused or neglected while at the facility or developed unexplained injuries, bedsores or died should contact the McHugh Fuller law firm for financial compensation. The request encourages tort litigation against Pruitt Health was displayed in red font boldface.

The law group was sued by Pruitt Health under Georgia’s Deceptive Trade Practices Act that was enacted by state legislators to allow the court system to order individuals and entities to stop using company trademarks and names without their permission. The Act gives the court system the authority to grant an injunction even if there is only a likelihood that using the name or trademark of the company will injure the owner’s reputation or dilute the trademark or name.

The law firm has requested that the Georgia Supreme Court vacate the injunction by the lower court that bars McHugh Fuller from running targeted advertising in the future. The Supreme Court did vacate an injunction involving a similar appeal last May after the injunction was issued to the law firm for running advertising against another facility owned by Pruitt Health.

Additional Lawsuits

This is not the first time that McHugh Fuller Law Group has faced opposition by facilities and other states filing suit against them for their advertisement campaigns. In early 2015, an Ohio-based Heartland of Portsmouth nursing facility filed a lawsuit against the law firm in Ohio state court in an effort to stop advertising that encourages injured victims to initiate tort litigation against the nursing home.
This lawsuit came on the heels of another controversy occurring in West Virginia where one of the law firm’s partners Michael Fuller purchased a private jet in 2011 for $1 million from the Segal Law Firm in Charleston. That law firm is owned by Scott Segal, the husband of West Virginia Supreme Court Chief Justice Robin Davis.

It was in 2014 when the Chief Justice wrote the majority opinion involving another nursing home facility case that resulted in a verdict of approximately $40 million against an HCR Manor Care facility. Davis’ written ruling upheld the verdict of the jury that was in favor of Michael Fuller’s client.

Now, the lawyers are handling the Heartland of Portsmouth lawsuit are seeking the recusal of Robin Davis over another HCR Manor Care affiliated nursing facility case. The lawyers are asking for both a Temporary Restraining Order along with an injunctive relief against the Law Firm in regards to their advertising campaign. The attorneys working on behalf of ManorCare are making claims that McHugh Fuller are engaging in “false and misleading advertising” by encouraging victims to file lawsuits against the Manor Care facility and other nursing homes throughout Ohio.

In that case, Toledo-based Anspach Meeks Ellenberger LLP attorneys wrote in the case complaint that “defendant distributes advertisements of sensational content, which contain deliberately misleading references to certain government surveys, performed upon Heartland of Portsmouth’s facility, in order to deceive Heartland of Portsmouth’s clientele and the citizens of the surrounding community into believing that Heartland of Portsmouth is unsafe and harmed their loved ones and community members.”

Large Verdicts Awards

For years, operators of a Charleston West Virginia nursing facility had fought in court to have a $91.5 million verdict overturned. This lawsuit was also filed by the McHugh Fuller Law Group. That lawsuit involved 87-year-old Dorothy Douglas, a patient suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease who died just after moving into Heartland Nursing Home. Court filing documents indicate that Dorothy “became dehydrated, malnourished, bedridden and barely responsive.”

The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals reduce the $36.5 million award but said that the penalty was warranted. The court ruled that “Heartland Nursing Home was chronically understaffed to the point that it was not able to provide even a life-sustaining amount of water to Ms. Douglas during the 19 days she resided in the facility.”

The arguments used by McHugh Fuller include expert testimony to suggest that the advertising campaign is neither deceptive nor false.

Nursing Home Neglect and Abuse

Only time will tell how these cases will ultimately play out in multiple courtrooms throughout the United States. Until then, cases involving abuse and neglect will continue to escalate as more individuals than ever before enter their retirement years. Increased demand for nursing home beds and overcrowded conditions and lack of staff will likely only increase the cases of mistreatment in the years ahead.

The nursing home neglect and abuse attorneys at Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers LLC have represented many nursing home victims who suffered serious harm, injuries and death. We accept all personal injury cases and wrongful death lawsuits through contingency fee arrangements and encourage anyone who suspects their loved one is being mistreated in a nursing home to contact our law offices at (888) 424-5757.