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Secret (confidential) settlements are becoming more and more common. They are virtually standard practice in medical malpractice cases and cropping up more often in other types of claims. Ninety-nine percent of the time it is the defendant who seeks to impose secrecy upon the settlement process. My views are parallel to those expressed in this out-of-state editorial regarding the confidentiality in a claim against a city. I totally agree that the practice allows loose talk about supposedly outrageous claims extorting money from innocent defendants.

What should frost people’s cookies is the other settlement referred to in the story, the settlement reached with Alexis Hernandez over an alleged assault administered by former police officer Brian Lawlor. While someone “familiar with the negotiations” in that case averred that the city agreed to pay Hernandez $100,000, a confidentiality agreement covers the case, which binds the parties from discussing it and, presumably, the court from releasing it.

Why do such agreements exist? Why should they exist? How can such agreements, which are against the public’s interest, exist in a democratic and open society? Where can anyone get off making a settlement so secret that its terms cannot be disclosed to the public?

Such confidentiality agreements are pretty typical these days in liability suits between two or more non-governmental parties. Frequently, an insurance company in a malpractice case insists on it, not wanting word to get out, apparently, of what sums it’s willing to offer in settlements. That’s understandable in a strictly private situation, although it shouldn’t be allowed, since it does almost nothing but make it possible for everyone to talk about the extortionate settlements to plaintiffs and be able to say nothing definite about the facts or liabilities.

In the public context, as with a local cop, it is insupportable — even if there’s an insurer involved.

It’s going to take legislation to end it and we urge the prompt introduction of bills to accomplish an end to the secret expenditure of public money.

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