Lawyer ads seeking Catholic Church abuse victims surge, report finds

REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton
  • Lawyer ads focused on Catholic Church abuse claims jumped in July and August
  • Mass tort TV advertising overall down from 2020, X Ante says

(Reuters) - Television advertising by law firms seeking clients to pursue lawsuits against the Catholic Church surged ahead of an August deadline to bring decades-old child abuse claims under a landmark New York law, according to a new report.

More than 5,700 ads soliciting child abuse claims against Catholic Church dioceses aired in July and August, almost 900 more TV spots than the prior two months, mass tort advertising tracking firm X Ante said in a report released Thursday.

The report examined mass tort advertising nationwide by lawyers and referral services in July and August compared to May and June.

Spending on the church-related advertising jumped 55% to nearly $2 million during that period, making church child abuse claims the fourth most common topic for ads in those months, according to X Ante, citing data from advertising tracking firm Kantar CMAG.

The surge in advertising came ahead of an Aug. 14 deadline to bring lawsuits under the Child Victims Act, a New York law enacted in 2019 that opened a window for people to pursue decades-old claims over child sex abuse.

The New York Office of Court Administration has tallied nearly 11,000 lawsuits that were brought during the two-year window.

Rustin Silverstein, X Ante's president and founder, said the New York law potentially explained some though not all of the church-related advertising spike. New York was among the top three markets for advertising involving those claims, but trailed San Francisco and Los Angeles.

California in 2019 extended the statute of limitations for childhood victims of sexual abuse to bring lawsuits to until they are 40 years old, or within five years of the discovery of the abuse.

About $1.76 million in spending on those ads was attributed to Right to Fight, whose ads refer to it as an "awareness and marketing group" and whose website says it is affiliated with Bedford Hills, New York-based Lacuna Ventures.

Lacuna did not respond to a request for comment.

Lawyer advertising overall is down in 2021, with $59.9 million spent on 325,140 spots since January, compared to $142 million during the same period in 2020. Silverstein attributed that partly to pandemic-prompted court closures.

In July and August, the top subject of ads by dollars spent involved the weedkiller paraquat, sold by Chevron Corp and Syngenta Group, with $5.97 million spent, up 48% from two months earlier. It also ranked No. 1 by number of ads at 20,685.

The spending spike came after the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation in June consolidated lawsuits alleging paraquat causes Parkinson's disease before a federal judge in Illinois. Nearly 290 cases are pending.

X Ante's report also flagged sky-rocketing advertising targeting devices used to help people with sleep apnea known as Continuous Positive Airway Pressure machines. The JPML is currently considering consolidating lawsuits over that product.

Medical equipment company Koninklijke Philips NV recalled the devices in June because of a foam part that might degrade and become toxic, potentially causing cancer. Only two ads about them aired in May and June compared to 5,658 in July and August.

The No. 2 ad spender was the Victims Justice Group, whose members include the law firms Fears Nachawati; Goza & Honnold; and the Holland Law Firm.

It spent $1.36 million, X Ante said, and was followed by several marketing companies. The firms did not respond to request for comment.

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Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Thomson Reuters

Nate Raymond reports on the federal judiciary and litigation. He can be reached at nate.raymond@thomsonreuters.com.