The Fourth District Court of Appeals for Florida has ruled that a non-settling defendant cannot obtain a court order forcing disclosure of confidential settlements between the plaintiff and settling defendants.
Plaintiffs were involved in an auto accident that was allegedly caused by tire failure. They sued the car manufacturer, the tire manufacturer, the car dealer, and Wal-Mart (the tire dealer and installer). Three of the defendants entered separate confidential settlement agreements after a mediation. Wal-Mart did not settle and sought discovery of the confidential settlement agreements. The trial court denied the request, saying that given the fact that joint and several liability had been abolished in Florida the settlement amounts were not relevant.
The Court of Appeals affirmed, saying
Wal-Mart cannot show that discovery of the settlement amounts is necessary to determine entitlement to set-off; it h a s not shown that the denial of this discovery will eviscerate its defense. At trial, Wal-Mart can ask the fact-finder to determine its percentage of fault. It does not need the settlement information to show that the claims arise from the same injury. The settlement information is not admissible or likely to lead to the discovery of admissible information.
This is the correct result. If confidential settlements are to be permitted at all (and there are sound reasons why they should not be) then a confidential settlement should be, well, confidential. A non-settling defendant should not be able to trump the terms of the private agreement, especially when the information they would gain has nothing to do with its ability to defend its case.
The case is Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Strachan, No. 4D11-253 (FL. App. 4th Dis. Oct. 12, 2011).