UPDATED: Florida Bar Quibbles With Some 411-PAIN Ads, Approves Others

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Some attorneys

aren't happy

with the Florida Bar's oversight of for-profit referral services that direct car accident victims to networks of doctors and lawyers. But public records show the bar is regulating ads for those services --  just in a meek, lawyerly kind of way.

For example, dressing an actor in a police uniform and having him tell viewers to call 1-800-411-PAIN (see above) is perfectly acceptable to the bar, as long as the commercial

contains prominent disclaimers stating "Not a testimonial -- paid actor."  (The ad displayed here doesn't have a disclaimer, but it's an older ad, and the ads approved by the bar since last year are different.)

According to a letter written by Elizabeth Tarbert, the bar's ethics counsel, a new ad with a fake police officer is "not deceptive, misleading, manipulative, or likely to confuse the viewer" because of the disclaimer.

However, last September 411-PAIN wanted to air ads that urged car accident victims to "Call 1-800-411-PAIN and let them put you in touch with a qualified attorney who can explain to you the $100,000 in benefits."

Under Florida law, all drivers are required to carry at least $10,000 in Personal Injury Protection (PIP) insurance, which will cover some of their medical bills if they're injured in an accident. That's $10,000, not $100,000. It's unclear why 411-PAIN added a zero, but Tarbert wrote a letter to the company's lawyer saying the ad was "misleading because it leads viewers to believe that they are entitled to $100,000 in benefits."

The ad could be fixed, Tarbert wrote, if it was revised to say "up to $100,000 in benefits, if the statement that prospective callers have up to $100,000 in benefits is true."

Tarbert didn't bother to figure out if the statement was true, nor does she seem concerned about viewers who might not hear the words up to and believe they'll get $100,000 if they call 411-PAIN.

The bar, like any good lawyer, knows how to split hairs. And so do the ad writers for 411-PAIN.

UPDATE: Ethics counsel Elizabeth Tarbert says that although last September's ad was approved, the Bar later ruled that no subsequent 411-PAIN ads mentioning $100,000 in benefits could be aired, because they are misleading. Now, ads can only tell viewers they may be entitled to "up to $10,000" because that is the minimum PIP insurance mandated by state law.

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