Wounded Warrior Project vs.
Wounded Warriors Family Support
A lawsuit titled WWP, Inc. (Wounded Warrior Project) vs. Wounded Warriors Family Support, Inc. (WWFS), pitted two wounded veteran charities against each other over donor confusion caused by similar names for the charities, and similarities in their websites.
We'd like to thank a reader for bringing it to our attention in his comments about the Wounded Warrior Project rating.
Our reader had mistakenly been told the lawsuit between these two veteran charities was about Wounded Warrior Project suing because it "owned" the phrase "Wounded Warrior," so we did a little research to flesh out the facts and set the record straight with regard to this lawsuit.
The information published here comes directly from the appellate court’s decision, found at WWP, Inc. (Wounded Warrior Project) vs. Wounded Warriors Family Support, Inc, if you’d like to read the Court’s opinion for yourself.
The original case was filed in September 2007 in Nebraska, where WWFS is based. Wounded Warrior Project (WWP) sued on three state law claims, alleging that WWFS had engaged in deceptive trade practices by:
- “passing off its services as those of Wounded Warrior Project;
- “causing likelihood of confusion or misunderstanding as to the source, sponsorship, approval or certification of goods or services;
- “causing likelihood of confusion or misunderstanding as to affiliation, connection or association with, or certification by, WWP; and/or
- “disparaging the goods, services, or business of WWP by false or misleading representations of fact.”
WWP also claimed WWFS violated Nebraska’s Consumer Protections Act
because their use of the name "Wounded Warriors" was:
- “likely to confuse the public and thus constituted an unfair method of competition or an unfair and deceptive act or practice in the conduct of trade or commerce” and was
- “an unfair and deceptive act or practice which has occurred in trade and commerce, that impacts the public interest, which has caused injury to WWP in its business or property and which injury is causally linked to [WWFS’] unfair and deceptive act.”
As its third cause of action, WWP claimed that WWFS was unjustly enriched
, in violation of Nebraska common low, by knowingly receiving donations intended for Wounded Warrior Project
Wounded Warrior Confusion
WWFS founder, retired Marine helicopter pilot Colonel John Folsom, originally founded Wounded Warrior Hospital Fund (WWHF) in Germany. Its website was woundedwarriorhospitalfund.org. Although they were doing similar work, this situation provided little risk of confusion for WWP's US donors, because WWHF operated solely in Germany.
WWP founder, John Melia, was himself a wounded warrior, and a former Green Beret. Wounded Warrior Project (WWP) registered woundedwarrior.org for its website in January 2003.
During the time WWHF was operating in Germany, Melia e-mailed Folsom and offered his assistance with fundraising for WWHF. Folsom declined. He subsequently listed WWP on the WWHF website as one of its supported charities, and twice made wounded warrior donations to WWP.
Col. Folsom moved from Germany to Nebraska in 2004, and changed the name of his organization to Wounded Warriors, Inc. At the same time, he started a new website at woundedwarriors.org (different only by the addition of an "s"), that was similar in colors and design to that of WWP. The disclaimer at the bottom of the new homepage was in a "difficult-to-read typeface with cream on white coloring," according to the Court.
A forensic accountant examined the financial records of WWFS and determined that some of the donations it received were explicitly payable to "Wounded Warriors Project," and others referenced recent work by WWP in the letters accompanying the donation.
Even if WWFS was not aware that WWP had conducted those activities, it certainly knew it had not conducted them. WWFS deposited these donations to its own accounts rather than forwarding them to WWP.
Further, the accountant examined the amount of donations WWFS received both immediately before it began using the woundedwarriors.org website, and after they closed it down, with the donations it received while that website was live.
The results were astounding.
Before the new website was created, WWFS averaged $1,337 per month in donations. After the creation of the new website, donations spiked to almost $88,000 per month. Once the website was taken down, WWFS donations dropped by more than 56% (and WWP donations increased by 29%).
From these facts, it's not difficult to conclude that WWFS was knowingly profiting from donor confusion, with donors thinking they were donating to WWP.
It's also not difficult, when reading the Court's description of WWFS' new website, to believe that confusion with WWP was intentional.
So whatever good work WWFS may have been doing, it was overshadowed by their apparently deliberate deception of donors, and siphoning off wounded warriors donations intended for WWP.
WWFS was ordered to pay $1.7 million to WWP, representing a conservative calculation of misdirected donations, plus loss of reputation or goodwill by WWP due to the actions of WWFS. WWFS was also ordered to take down its deceptively similar website.
WWFS appealed, and lost again on appeal.
Based on the facts outlined in the appellate court’s written decision, we come down on the side of WWP on this one, and we think you will, too.