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Everyone’s heard of confidentiality agreements; those documents you sign agreeing not to disclose certain important bits of information. What people may not realize is just how often such confidentiality agreements are employed in North Carolina to keep critical information regarding medical malpractice or dangerous devices or drugs from going public.
The agreements, which help ensure that settlement stay secret, often only work to the benefit of the doctor, hospital or manufacturer responsible for causing devastating harm. The victim of the negligence receives next to no benefit from such agreements. Even more disturbing is how they can be used to shield the public from important information about dangerous practices or products.
A recent case involving a North Carolina mother who’s young son died due to negligence among the hospital staff where he was taken after falling ill highlights just how rarely such cases make news. The woman was told to sign a confidentiality agreement to receive her settlement and that the whole case would go away if she did. She refused, saying she wanted the public to know about the medical safety issues that led to her son’s death.
The mother’s decision to speak out and not sign the confidentiality agreement is very rare. The majority of such lawsuits in North Carolina end with the victim signing an agreement promising not to reveal important information in exchange for a set amount of money.
The danger of this approach is that, for example, in the case of a defective product, if all those injured sign a confidentiality agreement and the company is able to settle the cases quietly, then the public will never be made aware of the problems associated with the dangerous product, depriving other potential future victims of the chance to safeguard their families.
A real world example of this is the case of the faulty Firestone tires. Years before the nationwide recall was announced, the company began settling cases involving the failing tires on Ford SUVs and made sure each plaintiff signed confidentiality agreements. These dangers were thus not revealed until much later, something that experts say led to 270 additional deaths.
To address these problems several states have taken action to limit the use of secret settlements. South Carolina, California and Florida have either restricted or outright banned the use of secrecy orders in federal courts and some state matters. The decision to do so has not led to a surge in legal proceedings, clogging up the court systems as some argued it would. The question among some experts in North Carolina is whether such a step might be a good thing for those living here.
If you, or someone you know, have any questions regarding personal injury claims, please feel free to contact the experienced workers’ compensation attorneys and lawyers in Charlotte, North Carolina at Arnold & Smith, PLLC for a free consultation. Call at 704-370-2828.
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