A North Carolina lawyer accused of improper advertising after the crash of Comair Flight 5191 must publicly apologize for starting a misleading Web site days after the crash that killed 49 people in 2006.
Joseph Anderson, a lawyer from Winston-Salem, must take out newspaper advertisements apologizing to the 49 families who lost someone in the Aug. 27, 2006 Comair crash in Lexington in the next 30 days, according to a Kentucky Supreme Court order released Thursday.
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The Supreme Court ruling was in response to a Kentucky Bar Association investigation.
After the fatal crash at Blue Grass Airport, many were appalled when lawyers, many of whom were from out-of-state, began advertising for clients. Federal law says that a law firm cannot directly contact a family member of a crash victim until 45 days after the accident; state law prohibits contact for 30 days. Anderson was one of several lawyers the Kentucky Bar Association investigated for violating advertising rules.
Although Anderson is from North Carolina, he has had a Kentucky law license since 2001.
According to court documents, Anderson started a Web site, www.comair5191families.com, shortly after the crash. The site offered counseling services but was also an advertisement for Anderson, Weber & Henry, Anderson's law firm. An employee of the law firm later contacted an employee of Galls Inc. Three employees of Galls Inc. had died in the crash. The paralegal from Anderson's firm had directed the employee to the www.comair5191families.com web site.
The Web site was removed on Sept. 5, 2006. The Kentucky Bar Association's committee on attorney advertising began investigating the Web site shortly afterward. The Kentucky Bar Association found that the Web site was misleading and found that it was improper for the employee to send an e-mail to an employee of Galls Inc., which violates state rules that prohibits law firms from contacting family members of mass disasters for 30 days after the event.
In addition to taking out an advertisement apologizing for his actions, Anderson must send a letter of apology to Galls employees within the next 30 days. Anderson could not be reached for comment.
Anderson must also submit all future advertisements 30 days in advance of the publication date until September 2009
Anderson was also placed on a 30-day suspension from practicing law in Kentucky but that sentence was probated on the condition that he issue the apologies.
Linda Gosnell, chief bar counsel for the Kentucky Bar Association, said Thursday that the bar is still investigating several other Kentucky lawyers for possible improprieties after the crash but could not comment on those cases. The bar set up a special task force to look at lawyer advertising after the crash. Some of the lawyers investigated were from outside of Kentucky. Those cases have been referred to the bar associations in their home states, Gosnell said.