The general practice in medical malpractice settlements in California and other states is for the court to allow the amount of the settlement to be sealed and kept from public view. Defense counsel inevitably obtains the consent of the other parties to that protection for their clients. However, from the perspective of the plaintiff’s medical malpractice bar, the practice keeps vital information about medical providers from public scrutiny.
Rarely will a court reject a defendant’s request to keep the settlement amount sealed. However, one judge in another state did just that recently in a $4.25 million settlement of a death claim involving a mother’s loss of twins who were stillborn. The state court judge ruled that the public’s right to know outweighed defense concerns for privacy.
Defense attorneys argued that the release of the information would tend to dissuade hospitals and doctors from wanting to settle malpractice actions going forward. The judge, however, reasoned that the case contained matters of societal importance and that the details of the case had been widely reported in the press. The judge incisively pointed out that court records are presumed to be open to the public except under extreme circumstances.
The lawsuit alleged that the hospital and its doctors were negligent in failing to monitor the mother for preeclampsia, which is a serious condition marked by high blood pressure. In this case, the medical problems caused the mother to have a seizure, which caused the placenta to detach from the womb. Considering the high settlement amount, it is relatively certain that the plaintiff produced ample pre-trial evidence, largely through the depositions and reports of medical experts, that the defendants were negligent. In California, a formidable settlement in a medical malpractice case would be likely under these or similar facts.
Source: thetimes-tribune.com, “Judge refuses to seal $4.25 million settlement in baby death case“, Terrie Morgan-Besecker, Aug. 23, 2016