Television advertising by lawyers soliciting plaintiffs in medical malpractice cases has increased nearly 1400% since 2004,a recent study found.

The study, commissioned by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for Legal Reform, examined the prevalence of these ads from 2004 to 2008. The study showed that in 2004, there were 10,150 medical malpractice ads compared with more than 156,000 in 2008. Spending by lawyers and law firms on this type of advertising has also exploded, from $3.8 million to nearly $62 million during this time period.

Lisa A. Rickard, president of the Institute for Legal Reform, said the finding highlights the growing role of medical malpractice cases in the overall litigation landscape. “Lawsuits are ultimately a business driven by the plaintiffs’ bar, and when you see the marketing of medical malpractice lawsuits exploding like this, it tells you that these lawsuits are a growing sector within the larger lawsuit industry,” she said. “This study is yet another piece of evidence that we need meaningful medical liability reform as a key ingredient of any workable healthcare reform package.”

Not everyone agrees. The American Association for Justice, which represents trial lawyers, says the significance of advertising numbers is undermined by the frequency of actual litigation. It points to a study from the National Center for State Courts showing an 8% decrease from 1997 to 2006 in states’ civil caseload related to medical malpractice. The study looked at data from nine states, and found that medical malpractice cases made up only 3% of the total tort cases in those states.

The television ads are likely to be effective, however. “As with every other advertising sector, marketers tend to go with what is working,” said Evan Tracey, president of Campaign Media Analysis Group, which conducted the study of malpractice ads for the Institute for Legal Reform. “You see these shifts when there are generally successful results. ‘If it makes the phone ring, let’s stick with it,'” Tracey said.