As I have written in prior issues of the Report, I am against the confidential settlements of lawsuits. Unfortunately, in all too many cases, victims of corporate wrongdoing have to agree to confidentiality when they settle their cases. That is because victims badly need the settlement funds in most every instance and have to accept the condition of confidentiality that is attached to settlement offers by defendants. In most states, settlements in state and federal courts are allowed to be kept secret quite often. Corporate defendants seek and get confidentiality, gag orders and sealed records when they settle cases. But in South Carolina, thanks to federal Judge Joe Anderson and State Supreme Court Chief Justice Jean Toal — who are advocates for court openness — settlement records in cases involving public safety issues have been open for several years. South Carolina has been a leader for openness and that’s good. Hopefully, the rest of the nation will soon follow its lead.
A bill is pending in the U.S. House of Representatives that would prohibit federal courts from sealing settlements in matters of public interest. Judge Anderson went to Washington last month to testify before a House subcommittee on the virtues of openness. The bill that has been introduced would require federal courts in all states to be as open as those in South Carolina. Judge Anderson told the subcommittee:
I knew of a judge who restricted access to case information where a child died while riding an allegedly defective go-kart. The settlement was $1.4 million, and the judge imposed a strict obligation of secrecy on the parties. I later learned that the model go-kart which the child had been riding was still being sold and marketed.
Clients have the final say-so on whether to agree to confidentiality when offers of settlement have that condition attached to it. Lawyers — whose first obligation is to see that their clients get fair settlements — have to agree to keep the amount of the settlement secret if their client agrees so that their case can be settled. In such cases, clients and their lawyers agree never to reveal how much they received in the settlement. In addition, the defendants attempt to get total confidentiality, involving matters other than amounts to be paid, in many cases. When that happens the public’s right to know just how dangerous a product might be is hidden and kept secret. In South Carolina, judges have stepped in to protect the public’s right to know. A bill similar to the House bill is in the Senate Judiciary Committee and is co-sponsored by Senator Lindsey Graham. Both bills, called “Sunshine in Litigation” acts, would prohibit federal courts from sealing settlements in matters of public interest.
Since it’s late in Congress’ session, neither the House bill nor the Senate bill is expected to pass this year. Hopefully, the bills will be a top priority when a new President and Congress are elected in November and take office next year. The public has the right to know when a product is defective and is still on the market. People also have a right to know when a corporation has committed fraudulent acts in the past with the conduct continuing.
Source: The State.com
Contact us today for a free legal consultation with an experienced attorney.
Fields marked *may be required for submission.
If you would like to subscribe to the Jere Beasley Report digital edition, simply visit our Subscriptions page and provide the necessary information or call us at 800-898-2034.
Attorney Advertising - Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome.