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Erie Injury Law Cautionary Tale About Confidentiality Provisions

It’s not uncommon these days for insurance companies who settle Pennsylvania injury lawsuits to insist on a confidentiality clause.  The clause requires that people who accept a Pennsylvania injury settlement keep certain facts about the settlement (like the fact there was a settlement and the amount) secret, even from close friends and family.  Injured people often accept such a clause because, they think, “No one really enforces those clauses.  Besides, how would they know if I just told my family?”

Well, a story from Third District Appeals Court in Florida illustrates just how dangerous violating a confidentiality clause can be in today’s world of modern social media.   According to the Miami Herald, Patrick Snay reached a settlement of a lawsuit for $80,000.  The settlement agreement included a confidentiality clause which required Mr. Snay to keep the settlement and the amount secret.  Instead, Mr. Snay told his college age daughter.  As he explained, she knew about the lawsuit.  She knew they were talking about settlement.  He had to tell her something!

Unfortunately for Mr. Snay, his teen daughter went on facebook and posted this:

Mama and Papa won the case against [the defendant].  [The defendant] is now officially paying for my vacation to Europe this summer.  SUCK IT!

Whoops.  Not only did Mr. Snay violate the terms of his agreement by telling his daughter about the settlement but she made sure the whole world knew by publishing it on facebook.  The result?  The Court determined that Mr. Snay’s violation of the agreement meant that the defendant didn’t have to pay him the $80,000 after all.

There are varying lessons to be learned from this tale.  Confidentiality clauses are not be accepted lightly.  At a minimum, anyone accepting a confidentiality clause as part of a settlement agreement should understand its terms and the potential risk associated with it. 

Perhaps more importantly, those written terms in a contract are all important.  Too often people sign contracts and think all those words are just “legalese” and they don’t have to know or pay close attention to it.  In fact, all that “legalese” has specific meaning that can cause the unwary great and unwanted trouble.

 

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