I often am asked if there are ongoing or possible upcoming lawsuits against stem cell clinics. Doing periodic searches such as on Google is one way to learn more about whether there are stem cell legal cases out there.
Recently I did such searches for a variety of terms including “stem cell lawsuit” and “stem cell fraud” and while no new actual Google results showed up that I hadn’t seen before, strikingly a new advertisement did show up for a law firm (see image above) looking into stem cell fraud with the latter search. I had not seen that before. Today I no longer see the ad, but it did pop up earlier in the week.
When I clicked on the ad link it went to this website, which is seeking Southern California patients who believe they may have been harmed or misled by stem cell clinics:
“If you paid for a stem cell treatment at a Southern California (San Diego, Orange County or Los Angeles) stem cell clinic between December 8, 2013 and July 1, 2016, you may be a member of proposed class of customers or patients who may be entitled to compensation.
The Law Offices of Mulligan, Banham & Findley are currently investigating a potential class action relating to potentially false or misleading advertising in web or other marketing relating to stem cell therapies in this region. This investigation includes potential fraud and consumer statute violations.”
This investigation is focused on California where Leigh Turner & my recent paper identified more than 100 stem cell clinics marketing what seem to be non-FDA approved treatments and in particular Southern California. As you can see from the map above from the paper there are tons of stem cell clinics just in Southern California.
Since Leigh and I found 570 clinics in total during our research, it is likely that there are at least around 600 stem cell clinics in the U.S. today. If each one sees ~200 patients per year (not a high number), that means more than 100,000 patients per year may be receiving non-FDA approved stem cells in the U.S.
Even if that back-of-napkin kind of calculation is off by an order of magnitude, there would still be 10,000 patients a year getting unproven stem cells in the U.S. but I bet it is much higher than that.
If a class action lawsuit proceeded on stem cell clinics even in just one clinic hot bed region such as Southern California, it could have a major impact on stem cell clinic practices throughout the U.S.
A number of facts make many of the clinics very vulnerable: they have no FDA approval and arguing that they do not need it will not fly in court in many cases, the stem cell community opposes them, there is no solid science or medical data backing up what they are doing, they often make very strong marketing claims, they charge large sums of money for something insurance won’t cover, their customers who could become plaintiffs are often vulnerable patients with compelling personal stories, and the clinics often treat patients with conditions outside of their physician(s)’ areas of speciality. Each of these things could be used by trial lawyers to build a case depending on circumstances.
Since I’m not a lawyer I have no idea if this could happen, but it seems at least in theory possible given the number of clinics and patients they have as customers. Then again it might not happen at all and even if it did the case might go nowhere. But this kind of thing can’t make the clinics and their doctors feel particularly relaxed.