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Wednesday, December 6, 2023
Courthouse News Service
Wednesday, December 6, 2023 | Back issues
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Vet Group Loses Appeal Over Web Donation Tricks

ST. LOUIS (CN) - A small charity for wounded veterans failed to overturn a $1.6 judgment awarded after a jury found it had deceived donors into thinking they were supporting a more established charity with a similar name.

WWP dba Wounded Warrior Project, which spent $39 million in 2008 to assist veterans, claimed that a newer organization, Wounded Warriors Family Support (WWFS), created a confusingly similar website to solicit millions of dollars in donations meant for WWP.

Once WWFS launched its website, donations jumped from just $1,300 a month to about $87,900. While WWP only cashed checks clearly meant for it, "WWFS simply cashed and deposited every check sent to WWFS' address," the 8th Circuit found.

The founder of WWFS mimicked WWP's web design and differentiated itself with just an "anemic" disclaimer "in a difficult-to-read typeface with cream on white coloring," Chief Judge William Riley wrote for the court.

WWFS had appealed the ruling of a Nebraska federal court, which found that WWFS should pay WWP more than $1.6 million in damages for violating the state's consumer protection act. The lower court also awarded a permanent injunction that forced WWFS to shut down its website.

The newer charity argued in its appeal that the district court should not have issued a preliminary injunction, should have let it subpoena WWP's donation records dating back to 2002, and should have barred testimony from WWP's forensic accountant.

The federal appeals panel rejected each of WWFS' claims, noting that it would have been unduly burdensome for WWP to produce records that predated WWFS.

Riley also backed up the accountant's testimony and said WWFS could not get a new trial.

"WWFS's examination of the donations it received is self-serving," the ruling states. "A reasonable jury could infer that many of the 7,500 donations - even those lacking any specific reference to WWP or its more well-known marketing efforts - were intended for WWP in light of WWFS's deceptive and unfair trade practices and WWFS's lack of advertising or promoting its own charitable work."

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