Q: My son received a settlement but the lawyer said it was confidential and he couldn’t tell anyone about it. Is that legal?
Richard, Florence, AL
A: Confidentiality agreements are legal and enforceable. We do not advise or allow our clients to sign confidentiality agreements unless we negotiate an additional payment.
The case of Aleksich v. Remington is an example of the consequences of confidentiality agreements. Gus Barber was nine years old when his family took a hunting trip in October of 2000. As the safety on the family’s Remington Model 700 rifle was released, it discharged and killed the child. The trigger had not been pulled. After his son’s death, Mr. Richard Barber set out to learn why the rifle discharged without the trigger being pulled.
Within months, Barber discovered that at the time Gus was killed, Remington was facing over eighty lawsuits from victims and their families who suffered the same fate as their family did. In a similar case, a fourteen-year old boy was shot through both legs when the safety was released on their Remington Model 700 without the trigger being pulled.
That family had filed a lawsuit against Remington which settled out of court and as part of the settlement agreement the court sealed the case file some five years prior to the death of Gus Barber.
In 2011, Mr. Barber intervened in Aleksich and convinced the court to unseal the records. Mr. Barber firmly believed that if Remington had not been able to hide the information about its defective rifles through these confidentiality agreements his son would still be alive today.
The Sixth Circuit observed, “common sense tells us that the greater the motivation a corporation has to shield its operations, the greater the public’s need to know.”
By no means am I “bashing” Remington. They are a fine company which makes fine products. Sometimes good companies make bad products. The public needs to be made aware of such products to prevent re-occurring events in the future. Confidentiality agreements prevent public knowledge and hide unsafe practices.
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