Why You Should Never Agree To A Confidential Settlement In Kingston, New York


On March 15, 2008, a crane collapsed on East 51st Street in Manhattan killing 6 construction workers and one bystander.

The crane operator used frayed, heavy duty straps to secure an 11,000-pound collar. When the straps collapsed, the 200 foot crane fell backward onto the seven victims. The straps were not padded to prevent tearing. The accident was devastating to the construction workers, property owners and persons living within a block of the crane collapse.

The surviving relatives of seven of those killed in the accident brought lawsuits. All but one of the seven lawsuits have been secretly settled out of court. The families of the seven victims struck confidential agreements with the City, crane operator, and building contractors. There are still 43 lawsuits pending from the dozens of people injured as well as property and business owners. The claims total nearly $500 million.

Although the non-settling injured victims have attempted to force the unsealing of the settlements, the courts have denied the requests. The non-settling injury victims have been denied access to any of the information about the secret settlements.

This case is a perfect illustration why you should never agree to a secret settlement

The lawyers for the injury victims pat themselves on the back and take home a large settlement check. Of course, why wouldn’t the lawyers feel good? The injury victims get compensated for their losses, the lawyers get paid their legal fees and everyone goes home happy. Right?

When viewed solely from one client’s perspective, the lawyers for the injury victims may see little problem in agreeing to a secret settlement. Perhaps the amount of a settlement can be increased by agreeing to keep the settlement secret and isn’t compensating the injury victim the whole point of the lawsuit? Why would one injury victim want to disclose the details of his/her settlement?

The point is sorely missed by the lawyers for the injury victims. The purpose of the civil justice system is to establish a standard of care, not just for a single client, but for all other persons who may be affected in the future. So, you may ask, how might disclosure of the settlements help establish a standard of care for safety standards?

Real simple, the Department of Buildings and construction contractors can learn from the dangerous methods that caused the accident. Disclosing the details about the settlements, and what led to the settlements, is critically important to establishing a standard of care to prevent future construction accidents. When the settlements are secret, no one learns anything from the litigation and the only person who benefits is the individual who was injured.

So, what’s so bad with that? If you do not care about making our society a safer and less dangerous place, there is nothing wrong with it. The lawyers for the injury victims took a short-sighted approach by agreeing to secret settlements. By ignoring the benefit that each case could have accomplished in helping to establish a standard of care, the lawyers for the injury victims showed little regard for our civil justice system.

You should never agree to a secret settlement. For years, insurance carriers have been asking me for secrecy in my cases that settle and my response is simple: “I will never, under any circumstances, agree to secrecy. If that is a condition of the settlement, there is no settlement.” Once the insurance carriers know you will never agree to secrecy, they stop asking for it. This is non-negotiable in my cases.

Perhaps I am overly idealistic, but I truly believe that each case establishes a standard of care that will help prevent future accidents. It’s a shame that the lawyers for the injury victims in New York City don’t agree. If you have questions about your case, consult a dedicated attorney right away.