PruittHealth loses legal challenge over law firm's targeted advertisements

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The law firm's ad "very clearly was an ad for a law firm and nothing more," the court ruled
The law firm's ad "very clearly was an ad for a law firm and nothing more," the court ruled

The Georgia Supreme Court ruled in favor of a law firm on Monday in a case debating whether the firm's ads targeting a specific nursing home violated state law.

The case revolves around a single advertisement run by Mississippi-based McHugh Fuller Law Group, which specializes in filing nursing home abuse cases. The full-page ad, published last year in the Moultrie Observer in Moultrie, GA, targeted a PruittHealth Inc.-operated facility in the same city.

The ad used PruittHealth's name and logo, along with photos of the facility and language urging people to contact the firm if they “suspect that a loved one was NEGLECTED or ABUSED” or experienced “bedsores,” “unexplained injuries,” and “death” following a stay at the facility.

PruittHealth sued for an injunction under the Georgia Deceptive Trade Practices Act, claiming the ads used the provider's trade name without permission and in a way that could “injure the business reputation,” therefore violating the state's “anti-dilution” statute. A trial court banned McHugh Fuller from running ads targeting PruittHealth that used any of the provider's trade names or logos last year. Monday's court decision effectively reversed that judgment.

In his opinion for a unanimous court, Justice David E. Nahmias said the law firm's use of PruittHealth's marks was only to identify the specific facility, rather than link the provider to its own goods and services.

“No one reading the ad would think that McHugh Fuller was doing anything other than identifying a healthcare facility that the law firm was willing to sue over its treatment of patients,” Nahmias wrote. “In short, the ad very clearly was an ad for a law firm and nothing more.”

Should PruittHealth's case against the firm continue, the provider would have to seek relief under another statutory cause of action, Nahmias added. Pruitt operates more than 10,000 skilled nursing beds in 97 facilities, generating $1.2 billion in annual operating revenue, according to the most recent figures from the American Health Care Association.