Confidentiality provisions are frequently included in the settlement of a personal injury lawsuit, whether the claim involves wrongful death, medical malpractice, a slip and fall or other personal injury scenario. Often times, both parties wish to keep their business private. Therefore, confidentiality provisions are typically mutual. It is of paramount importance that confidentiality provisions in personal injury lawsuits are followed. Otherwise, the injured party could risk losing their compensation that they recovered for lost wages, pain and suffering, or other damages recoverable in a personal injury claim.
A recent Florida case from 2014 serves as a perfect example of why it is important to abide by a confidentiality provision.
In the case Gulliver Schools, Inc. v. Snay, the school’s former headmaster filed an age discrimination and retaliation claim against Gulliver Schools after it did not renew his employment contract. Ultimately, the case settled, with the headmaster receiving $10,000 in backpay and $80,000 as part of the settlement.
Days after the settlement was reached, the former headmaster’s daughter made a Facebook post stating “Mama and Papa Snay won the case against Gulliver. Gulliver is now officially paying for my vacation to Europe this summer. SUCK IT.” The daughter had 1,200 friends on her Facebook account, some of whom were current or former Gulliver students. Shortly after the post was made, Gulliver notified the former headmaster that he had violated the confidentiality provision. The $80,000 settlement was contingent upon a confidentiality provision, which had been violated by the Facebook post. Specifically, the confidentiality agreement stated that the headmaster and his wife were barred from discussing the existence of the settlement with other parties (with the exception of their lawyers or other professional advisors). If these terms are violated, the $80,000 would be discharged.
When the former headmaster filed a motion to enforce the settlement, he argued that his comments to his daughter and his daughter’s Facebook post did not constitute a breach of the settlement terms. The court disagreed with these claims, arguing that a settlement agreement must be interpreted in the same way as any other contract with clear and unambiguous language.
Understanding Personal Injury Settlements and Confidentiality Provisions
Many personal injury settlements contain confidentiality provisions that bar plaintiffs from discussing the existence or terms of the settlement with other people. Most defendants settle to keep the details of a lawsuit under wraps. For businesses, public relations can suffer if they are engaged in public trials. It makes sense for these parties to settle with plaintiffs under-the-radar instead of allowing a claim to potentially go to a public trial.
You should always follow the terms of a confidentiality provision in a personal injury settlement to the letter. If you fail to follow the terms, then you may be unable to recover or keep the settlement. You should never assume that social media privacy settings allow you to post anonymously. Here’s a good rule of thumb to avoid the pitfalls described in this blog post: always assume the defending counsel will hear what you say or see what you type.
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