AMA sued over ads portraying uninsured

By Ameet Sachdev
Posted Oct. 12, 2010 at 5:18 p.m.

The American Medical Association has been sued for using a girl’s image without authorization and in a false light in a marketing campaign launched in 2007, aimed at motivating politicians to tackle the issue of Americans without health insurance.

One of AMA’s print advertisements featured a girl named “Toya.” The ad says that Toya has a “severe” problem but her parents can’t afford health insurance. The same picture of Toya was featured on the AMA’s web site under a section called “stories of the uninsured.”

A Cook County lawsuit filed Friday said that Toya is China Travis, a girl from the Chicago area who has done some modeling. Her mother, Angela Wonsey, claims the ad is misleading and defamatory because Travis does not have a severe health problem and both of them are not “uninsured.”

The suit also names a talent agency, Shirley Hamilton Inc., and advertising agency, Lou Beres & Associates, as defendants. Both are based in Chicago, like the AMA.

Alan Barinholtz, an attorney for Lou Beres, said the allegations are false.

“This young lady was an actor,” Barinholtz said. “There was no defamatory conduct.”

A spokesman for the AMA declined to comment because the organization does not comment on ongoing litigation. A representative of Shirley Hamilton declined to comment because she had not seen the suit.

The suit said Shirley Hamilton booked Travis for a modeling assignment in July 2007, when she was 10 years old. Her mother signed a general release allowing for Travis’ image to be used for one year.

Her image appeared in AMA ads in Time magazine and other national magazines in 2007 and 2008. The ads continued to appear on the AMA’s Web site until at least May 2010, the suit said.

In addition to the alleged defamation, Wonsey said that she did not agree to allow her daughter’s image to be used for such purposes. Wonsey claims that ads embarrassed them and harmed their reputations. They are seeking undisclosed monetary damages.

Their attorney, Joseph Siprut, declined to comment.

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