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Judge Refuses To Seal $4.25 Million Settlement in Medical Malpractice Case


A Pennsylvania judge refused to seal a $4.25 million settlement in a 2011 medical malpractice case over the death of twin fetuses. The settlement came after five years of litigation.

The lawsuit followed the 2009 death of the twins, who were stillborn after their mother suffered a seizure 33 weeks into her pregnancy. The complaint alleged doctors at Moses Taylor Hospital failed to properly monitor and treat the mother for preeclampsia — a serious medical condition characterized by high blood pressure. As a result, the woman suffered a seizure, which led to hypovolemic shock, tachycardia and massive hemorrhaging, and required her to undergo an emergency hysterectomy and removal of her fallopian tube and ovaries. At age 29, she was left unable to conceive children. The woman sought “compensatory damages for her own harm, along with wrongful-death and survival damages on behalf of the twins.”

The defense requested that the settlement be sealed, but Judge Terrance Nealon ruled that the public’s right to know outweighed concerns defense attorneys raised that release of the information would discourage hospitals and physicians from settling malpractice cases in the future. He also noted that the case had been widely reported on in the media, so many of the details were already in the public domain.

It’s not surprising that the defense wanted to keep the settlement details quiet. The ability to trade settlements for confidentiality is a frequently used corporate legal tactic to avoid bringing corporate negligence to light. Secret settlements have concealed hundreds of injuries and deaths caused by asbestos, defective drugs, exploding tires and defective ignition switches, even the Catholic Church kept settlements under wrap to protect abusive priests.

Multiple examples of this problem and practice are found when one examines automobile related product liability cases. For example, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimated that Bridgestone/Firestone tires caused over 200 deaths and more than 500 injuries; there were nearly 100 lawsuits over 10 years. Yet, the public was left in the dark. While GM continued to profit from the sale of these defective tires, more people were seriously injured; lives were lost. What about the GM fault ignition switch? Early settlements and case resolutions of the GM faulty ignition switch cases were resolved on the condition that victims and victims’ families maintained strict confidentiality related to the terms of the settlement or even that a settlement had been reached. Several reports later showed that the both the automaker and federal regulators were aware of the defective ignition switches, but failed to address it. Publication of these settlements would have warned the public of the dangers and/or forced GM to replace the switches sooner. As a result, public awareness of the problem did not come until almost nine years after the earliest settlements. The 2013 explosion at the fertilizer plant in West Texas, Ford Pinto exploding gas tanks, and exploding Blitz gas cans represent additional examples of this deceitful, but completely legal, practice.

Every time records are sealed, the general public is left without vital information about negligent practices and defective products. Like tort reform, confidential settlements curtails justice, suppresses vital information, and allows corporations to continue putting profits over safety.

Silence does not come without a price. For every confidential settlement, there are dozens, if not hundreds, of innocent victims who suffer similar and unnecessary harm. Lawsuit Financial suggests that selfish concerns of corporate wrongdoers should not override the safety of the American people. What do you think?

Mark Bello is the CEO and General Counsel of Lawsuit Financial Corporation, a pro-justice lawsuit funding company.

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