When patients are injured in medical malpractice cases, they may take their claim to court. However, most medical malpractice cases are settled before they ever get to a trial. Many of these settlements include a confidentiality agreement so that the terms of the settlement are not made public. Doctors may want to avoid potential damage to their reputation. However, in some cases, the public interest in knowing what happened trumps the doctor’s desire to avoid negative publicity.
Doctors like confidential settlements because they can help them to avoid a public trial and questions about their standard of care in treating patients. Malpractice insurance carriers prefer confidential settlements to prevent plaintiffs’ attorneys from learning what the value of the case was worth. Even plaintiffs and judges may prefer a settlement as a way to bring the painful experience to a close.
For more than 10 years, many lawsuit settlements in Pennsylvania where the public is footing the bill are not subject to being sealed. In 2004, Lackawanna County Judge Terrence R. Nealon refused to seal a medical malpractice settlement where an OB/GYN was sued for misdiagnosis after a patient died. After a woman died of an ovarian cyst that went undetected for at least three years, the woman’s husband filed a malpractice complaint. The case was eventually settled for $725,000 with the doctor’s insurance company. Judge Nealon ruled that the settlement of medical malpractice cases where settlements are paid out of a state fund are matters of public interest.
Almost 12 years later, that same judge has refused to seal a $4.25 million settlement in a case involving the death of twin fetuses. Jo Ann Page filed the lawsuit against a number of doctors after her twins died in the womb. The lawsuit claimed the doctors failed to properly monitor the woman who eventually suffered a seizure, causing the placenta to detach from the womb.
Two of the doctors involved sought to seal the settlement; however, Dr. Nealon denied the motion. Dr. Nealon again indicated that court records are presumed to be open records except in rare circumstances. The judge found that the doctors’ concerns were outweighed by the public interest and that details of the case were already made public in news articles.
However, even in cases where the settlements are sealed, the truth may eventually come out. Many hospitals and doctors come to find that trying to go after the victims for breaching the confidentiality agreement brings even more trouble. In one example, after a couple settled their malpractice claim related to an alleged infection in the hospital, the local news released a story on what happened. The hospital sued the plaintiffs for violating the agreement. However, the hospital soon learned that suing the plaintiffs only brought more negative publicity as they were accused of trying to cover up their negligence. The hospital dropped the lawsuit.
If you or someone you love was injured as the result of a surgical mistake, the Gilman & Bedigian team is here to help. We are fully equipped to handle the complex process of bringing a medical malpractice claim on your behalf. Negligent doctors and surgeons should be held accountable for making dangerous mistakes. Our staff, including a physician and attorneys with decades of malpractice litigation experience, will focus on getting your family compensation, so you can focus on healing and moving forward.