Marina, CA asked in Civil Rights and Internet Law for California

Q: Can I sue a law firm for having my tragic story up and they are not involved or representing anyone in the case?

Recently my Mother and my Aunt were both brutally killed by a non-remorseful 18 y/o reckless driver. Whilst googling the story, I came across a law firm that had my families story highlighted on their web sight as the cover. It says something similar to ' Don't let this happen to you, call us today!' How insensitive and rude. I figured since the story was THAT entertaining to them, then maybe retaining them as attorney's to fight the wrongful death suit may be smart. After sending them ALL of my documents and info they contacted me and said, I am sorry we can not help you. I know it is not a conflict and maybe the opposing side has them retained because they don't. After the women at the law firm denied me, I asked her to remove my families story from their website. This was 4 months ago. Today I just looked and it is still up on their website. Can I sue them for not removing my mother and aunts story without obtaining the families permission first??

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1 Lawyer Answer
Eric Gene Young
Eric Gene Young PRO label
Answered
  • Santa Rosa, CA
  • Licensed in California

A: I know exactly the type of website you are describing, and they are, frankly, disgusting. I have had firms with these type of websites post information about cases I am handling. Unfortunately, the smarmy firms that use this kind of advertising typically obtain information about cases from publicly available information. Is this not the case with your situation? If they just posted details about the case that may have been reported elsewhere, or which they could have obtained from law enforcement or court records, that is not something that you could sue them for.

It is interesting you decided to take them up on their advertising by seeing if they wanted to represent you. They were under no obligation to take your case, so that is not something you could sue the for either.

Finally, I do not think you would have a viable case against them for refusing to take down the post on their site. If the information posted is true, then there is no cause of action for defamation. If the information was from public sources, then there is no invasion of privacy either. Moreover, the Supreme Court has held that even if a company posts false or inaccurate information on their website, a person cannot hold them liable unless the person can show a concrete, actual or imminent injury that resulted from the posting. Examples of such injuries might be a person being denied a mortgage because of a false posting about them on a website. SAbsent a concrete, actual or imminent injury of this type, a person cannot sue a website for publishing information, even if it is false or incorrect. It does not sound like the information they posted was false or necessarily inaccurate.

Such online advertising practices are, in my opinion, tacky and insensitive to the people involved or their loved ones. You might consider reporting the website to the State Bar. Attorneys are bound by rules of professional conduct that limit how we can use websites to advertise online, including blogging and social media. Without seeing the actual website, I cannot express an opinion on this, but it is just a phone call to the State Bar. The worst they can do is nothing.

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