Once upon a time, lawsuits were not the secret they are now. Court filings included settlements instead of anonymous pleadings dismissing the case with no fault recognized.
Fast forward. Today, many personal injury claims, particularly in the areas of medical malpractice and product liability, confidentially settle on the terms and conditions required by the manufacturer or insurance company. It is time for this to change.
Years ago my firm represented a person injured by a defective airbag, the same defect now widely in the news for a possible national recall. Had the manufacturer not insisted on confidentiality as a condition for settlement, the defect could have been identified and communicated to consumers years earlier.
This would have saved lives and prevented life-altering injuries damages. Instead, we now — years later — face a massive recall that could have prevented more needless tragedy if done earlier. The previous lawsuits should have triggered a root cause analysis, to apprise the multiple car manufacturers that their supplier had problems long ago.
Similarly, in the medical malpractice arena, a lawsuit is a great teaching tool that can serve as a reminder of the standard of care. Instead, secret settlements do not allow healthcare providers in the same specialties to be aware of areas of medicine that create risk for themselves and the patient.
It is time for all settlements to be subject to the Sunshine Law of Florida.
The amount of the settlements could remain undisclosed. But, let us educate society and prevent recurrences rather than act like ostriches with our heads in the sand hoping that we will not be the next party to the lawsuit, regardless the side.
The millions of dollars that are eventually spent when the 'secret' comes to life, as well as the loss to society in life and limb, can all be mitigated by allowing the underlying causes for the claims to see light when they are first brought to a court’s attention.
Nancy La Vista, West Palm Beach